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Several charged after Scotiabank Giller Prize gala interrupted during televised bash

TORONTO — Three people accused of interrupting the Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony on Monday night are facing charges after anti-Israel protesters jumped on stage during the glitzy literary bash.
A protester films herself as she interrupts the Scotiabank Giller Prize in Toronto, on Monday, November 13, 2023. The ceremony was twice interrupted by anti-Israel protests. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Three people accused of interrupting the Scotiabank Giller Prize ceremony on Monday night are facing charges after anti-Israel protesters jumped on stage during the glitzy literary bash.

Toronto Police said the three accused used forged documents to gain access to the invitation-only, televised award ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel.

All three, who range in age from 23 to 25, face charges of obstructing property and using forged documents. They're due back in court in January.

Over the course of the evening, two waves of protesters hopped on stage. The first carried signs that read "Scotiabank Funds Genocide," and CBC-TV cameras panned away as the demonstrators were escorted off stage and out of the venue.

Pro-Palestinian groups have taken issue with Scotiabank's investment in an Israeli arms producer.

The second set of demonstrators acted as Sarah Bernstein's "Study for Obedience" was named the winner of the $100,000 award, shouting anti-Israel slogans before being walked out and arrested.

The Giller was first handed out in 1994, and Scotiabank has been its sponsor since 2005. A jury of three authors culls more than 100 submissions down to a short list of five, before choosing the book they deem the year's best novel, graphic novel or short story collection written in English by a Canadian. 

"Last night we gathered at the 30th Scotiabank Giller Prize gala to celebrate the best of Canadian literature and our shared cultural heritage," Elana Rabinovitch, executive director of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, said Tuesday in a written statement. 

"Unfortunately, uninvited protesters breached security and interrupted the celebration, showing disrespect to Canadian authors, and their literary achievements that were made throughout the year."

Protests have surged in recent weeks as the latest war between Israel and Hamas has intensified. 

Protests supporting opposing sides took place across Canada over the weekend. Pro-Palestinian marchers in a handful of cities demanded Israel halt its bombardment of Gaza, while a rally in Toronto drew thousands calling for the release of Israeli hostages seized by Hamas during the attack that sparked the war.

Businesses believed to be supporting Israel have likewise been the target of protests. 

The flagship location of Indigo was splashed with red paint in what Toronto police are investigating as a hate crime. Heather Reisman, founder and CEO of the books giant, is Jewish.

Indigo has long been a subject of the boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) movement because Reisman and her husband also founded the HESEG Foundation, which offers scholarships to people without family in Israel who nevertheless serve in the Israeli Defence Forces.

The Israeli-founded Cafe Landwer, a Toronto restaurant, has also been the site of protests that were condemned by Jewish groups and politicians alike. 

Videos shared on social media showed a group of protesters, including many holding Palestinian flags, gathered in front of the restaurant last month, where some in the crowd could be heard calling it a “Zionist café” — referring to a movement to establish, and develop, a Jewish homeland in Israel — and chanting for a boycott.

Toronto police have reported a rise in hate crime reports since the onset of the latest Israel-Hamas war, particularly of hate-motivated graffiti. They say 12 of the 14 alleged hate crimes reported since the conflict began were antisemitic, while two were targeted at Muslims.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2023.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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