Man in brawl with pro-Palestinians appeared to have knife, was alongside members of U.S.-deemed terror group
Some in crowd appeared to be wearing shirts with Jewish Defence League logo
After disturbing video of what appeared to be an assault by pro-Palestinian demonstrators on an elderly man in Toronto over the weekend, new footage has surfaced appearing to show the victim in that video had been brandishing a weapon and may have been part of a larger altercation involving members of the Canadian chapter of a U.S.-designated terror group.
The morning after thousands gathered at Nathan Phillips Square for a peaceful protest in support of Palestinians affected by the violence in the Middle East, video emerged on social media appearing to show a group of individuals, some wearing Palestinian flags, striking a man with a flagpole.
That prompted widespread reaction, including from Premier Doug Ford and Mayor John Tory, who issued statements condemning violence and anti-semitism. Several Jewish advocacy groups also published a joint statement condemning the violence.
"We condemn in the strongest terms these brazen acts of assault, intimidation, and hate targeting members of Toronto's Jewish community and supporters of Israel," said the statement from CIJA, B'nai Brith Canada, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies and the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.
But new video surfacing Sunday evening appears to tell a different story from the initial footage.
In it, a group of what appear to be Palestinian supporters are seen walking in one direction as another group approaches, at least one of whom is armed with what looks like a bat or stick.
Politicians critiqued as 'quick to jump to conclusions'
"You're a tough guy!" shouts one of the men from what appears to be the pro-Israeli side. Seconds later a scuffle breaks out with members of the two groups trading blows as more bats or sticks come into view.
Approximately 20 seconds into the video, a man in a blue and white striped shirt enters the frame holding what also appears to be a bat, raising it and seemingly swinging. It's unclear if anyone is struck.
(1/4) We ask <a href="https://twitter.com/TorontoPolice?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TorontoPolice</a> to investigate the incident in the video below, where members of the JDL appear to have instigated a violent altercation. <a href="https://t.co/CVYw8r3anq">pic.twitter.com/CVYw8r3anq</a>—@nccm
The scuffle continues as a car alarm blares in the background.
About 28 seconds into the video, the man in blue comes back into view and picks something up off the ground before reaching into his pocket.
The man in blue then appears to put his hand in his pocket and retrieve something as a man wearing a Palestinian flag yells, "Put the knife down!"
Someone then appears to strike the man in blue in the face as the group heads out of view.
At least one person involved in the scuffle also appears to be wearing a shirt emblazoned with the logo of the Jewish Defence League, a group labelled a right-wing terrorist group by the FBI in the U.S., but not listed as such in Canada.
On Monday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims called on Toronto police to investigate the possible involvement of the JDL, saying numerous politicians, commentators and journalists "were quick to jump to conclusions based on initial footage, without waiting for an independent investigation."
"While we all have a role to play in standing against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and any forms of violence on our streets, it is critically important for our political leaders and media to be diligent in reporting and commenting accurately," the group said in a tweet.
'They all basically bought into a far-right lie'
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network's executive director Evan Balgord echoed that message, saying that while politicians and advocacy groups were quick to condemn the violence, there was no condemnation for the JDL, which he says has "a long history of being a hate group."
Balgord pointed out that the JDL's founder was banned from the Israeli parliament after its founder called for violence against Arabs, and that in recent years, it has come under further scrutiny for featuring anti-Muslim speakers at its events, whether virtual or in person, including anti-Muslim activist Pamela Gellar and far right Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
Last year, the head of the group was also banned from Toronto's York University after clashes between pro-Israel activists and pro-Palestinian demonstrators, including members of a group called Students Against Israeili Apartheid.
"The media, Jewish advocacy groups, politicians — they all basically bought into a far-right lie about what happened at that demonstration," said Balgord, referring to the video of Saturday's apparent assault.
CBC News contacted Toronto police about the new video of the alleged victim brandishing a weapon and asked if investigators are probing possible involvement by the JDL in the incident. Police were also asked if charges were possible for the man.
"This remains an ongoing investigation and officers are continuing to gather all available videos from the scene and area that day to establish the full circumstances," Toronto police spokesperson Connie Osborne said.
"I will pass the video you have sent on to the investigators."
CBC News also contacted the alleged victim directly, but did not receive a response.
Since the publication of this story, the man has been quoted telling other media he was coming to the defence of a friend and wasn't looking for a fight.
The Toronto Sun cites him saying he picked up the knife and kept it to show police, and that what appeared to be a bat was in fact selfie-stick.
'Too much of a tinderbox'
Asked if the premier had any response to concerns raised about his comments potentially being premature, Ford's press secretary Ivana Yelich said, "The Premier's statement stands."
Tory too was asked by CBC News if his comments were premature.
"My own comment said that violence against anybody whether it was motivated by anti-semitism or against any other group was unacceptable. And I stand by those comments which is that anywhere, anytime no matter what the process is, no matter what side you're on that violence in the City of Toronto is not acceptable," Tory said at a news conference.
"I think that we'll all await the results of the police investigation."
Former Canadian Jewish Congress CEO Bernie Farber told CBC News he's concerned about extremism on any side of the conflict.
"Listen, everybody has the right to come and counter-demonstrate as long as it's done peacefully. I'm just suggesting that given the tensions, it's best to allow people to come to to their demonstrations," he said.
"If it's been called by the Palestinian community, the Jewish community have their own places that they can demonstrate or at different times when they can demonstrate. It's just too much of a tinderbox for one to cross over into another demonstration and rally."
With files from Shanifa Nasser and Nick Boisvert