Pandemic protesters have been targeting the Etobicoke home of Premier Doug Ford for nearly two years, raising the ire of local residents and requiring persistent surveillance by police.
Toronto police say several people have been “cautioned” in recent weeks near Ford’s Etobicoke residence and the Annex home of Health Minister Christine Elliott.
“Over the course of the pandemic, the premier’s family and neighbours have been subjected to regular protesting outside their homes,” said Ivana Yelich, the premier’s executive director of media relations.
“A large group of loud and disruptive protestors were camped outside his home again (in December), disturbing his neighbours and blocking his family from entering their house. This follows repeated protests outside Minister Elliott’s home,” she said.
Yelich noted “the only thing these people are doing is targeting and harassing innocent neighbours and family members who have nothing to do with the government’s decision-making. Furthermore, it’s taking much-needed resources away from police.” She said demonstrators “have every right to come to the grounds of Queen’s Park like anyone else to express their views.”
One Ford neighbour who called the Star to complain about the protests said it’s “ridiculous” they still have to put up with the weekly Saturday demonstrations, which began in spring 2020.
“They’re anti-lockdown, they’re anti-vax, they’re anti-everything. One guy even had a ‘No 5G’ sign. This is the bottom of the barrel,” said the neighbour, who spoke confidentially in order to discuss locals’ frustration.
“The protests were bigger before Christmas with a few dozen people every Saturday morning, but the weather seems to have quietened them down a bit. But we still get them,” he said Wednesday, adding the recent removal of portable toilets used by construction workers burying hydro lines also helped because protesters have nowhere to relieve themselves.
“There are cops here all the time and they’ve installed CCTV (closed circuit television cameras) on a telephone pole right in front of (Ford’s) house.”
On Wednesday, Ford’s office confirmed the protesters were again outside his house last Saturday.
In recent days, videos have surfaced on social media of an anti-vaccine crowd demonstrating outside Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s home in his King-Vaughan riding.
Sources say they have been disruptive — flashing lights, honking car horns, shouting vulgarities, and banging on pots and pans. Neighbours have also reported protesters blocking traffic.
Vaccine and lockdown demonstrators were also out in full force in the summer at Lecce’s house, with crowds of more than 20 people, and the Star learned that they had used an encrypted messaging app to discuss hiring private detectives to “dig up dirt” on the minister.
Lecce was also followed as he left his home while on personal time, and a car tried to box his in.
York Regional Police say no arrests have been made.
“Typically when officers are called to attend a protest of any kind, our primary function is to ensure that citizens are safe and that the protest remains peaceful,” Const. Laura Nicolle told the Star in a written statement when asked about the latest protests at Lecce’s home.
“Every protest is different with different elements, but if it becomes unsafe for anyone then officers may need to intervene. If a serious criminal offence occurs then officers may make an arrest at the scene, or for other more minor offences an officer can use discretion or potentially lay a charge later on.”
Lecce’s director of media relations, Caitlin Clark, said that “over the past year, neighbours have been subjected to regular protesting outside their homes. These bully tactics will have no impact on this government’s resolve to do the right thing in order to protect the people of Ontario.”
Toronto Police Service’s Connie Osborne said on Dec. 20, police “were monitoring a protest in the residential area” where Ford lives in Etobicoke “to ensure safety and to keep the peace.”
Osborne said “while we recognize that everyone has the right to protest, one woman was arrested at the scene for obstruction after breaching a barricade and not complying with police. She was then cautioned and released. There were no other issues reported.”
In mid-December, police were dispatched to Elliott’s Annex home — where the minister, a widow, lives with one of her adult triplet sons, who has a disability — after “reports of a group of disorderly people.”
“Officers remained in the area,” said Osborne. “There were no arrests at the time. However, the group was cautioned by officers” and left just after 10 p.m.
Last June, a man was charged with possession of a weapon and 11 counts of mischief outside Ford’s home after neighbours had reported their car tires were slashed by a man who later yelled threats towards the premier’s front door.
Then, in October, Ford addressed the ongoing protests during a news conference, saying “I’m asking the protesters (that) show up to my house every Saturday morning. This is not about me. I’m out of there, I’m not there … My neighbours, they’re frustrated,” he said. “They didn’t sign up for this … I signed up to be the premier.”
Conservatives at Queen’s Park aren’t the only politicians facing protests at their homes.
Councillor Joe Cressy, who is chair of Toronto Public Health, has had frequent anti-vax and anti-lockdown demonstrations outside his downtown house.
Such raucous protests have also been held at vaccine clinics and outside hospitals, where front-line health-care workers have been berated and hassled while going into work.
As well, private businesses, such as Bar Vendetta, a popular Dundas St. W. restaurant whose owner, Jen Agg, has spoken in favour of vaccination passports, have been picketed by “loud, misguided, hugely invasive anti-vaxxers.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has promised to criminalize such protests at hospitals, suggested the behaviour was a symptom of the pandemic.
“We recognize that mental health stresses, economic stresses, issues around extremism and protests have created a dynamic where there are more threats to people serving the public than before, whether it’s doctors or public health experts or politicians,” he said Wednesday.
Trudeau said “nobody in the course of doing their job should be faced with threats of violence, threats to their family, and that applies for health-care workers or for politicians or anyone else.”
With files from Tonda MacCharles
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