Pro-Palestine Protest Shuts Down Justin Trudeau Reception at Toronto Museum

The cancelled event was planned in honor of Italy's right-wing prime minster Giorgia Meloni.

Pro-Palestinian protestors block entrance of Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) where Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to host a reception for Italian Prime Minister Giorgio Meloni in Toronto, Ontario on March 2, 2024. Photo: Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu via Getty Images.

A pro-Palestine protest was held at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on Saturday, March 2, forcing the venue to cancel a reception hosted by Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau in honor of Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni. Approximately 400 demonstrators gathered at the museum, describing themselves as “an ad-hoc coalition of artists, arts workers, and people who oppose genocide.” In their chants, they referred to Trudeau as “genocide Justin.”

“Tonight was a victory!” the organizers later declared on Instagram. “And the people’s demands were clear, artists will continue participating in direct action until our demands are met: Arms embargo now. Permanent ceasefire now. End the siege on Gaza now. Free Palestine!”

The two world leaders were meeting to discuss the newly announced Canada-Italy Roadmap for Enhanced Co-operation. The AGO was chosen as the venue for a dinner that would round off a day of meetings but protestors blocked off the main entrances. Some ministers and other dinner guests did make it inside via side entrances with the help of police escorts. The Toronto Police Service offered to ensure safe access to the building for Trudeau and Meloni, but Trudeau’s team decided to abruptly call off the event at around 8 p.m.

Protestors stand outside of a museum holding signs that read 'Jews say no to genocide,' 'free gaza,' and 'free palestine'

Pro-Palestinian protestors block entrance of Art Gallery of Ontario on March 2, 2024. Photo: Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu via Getty Images.

Nobody has yet been arrested but authorities are still investigating the events, according to The Globe and Mail. The organizers of the protest said they “were met with extreme violence by the Toronto Police Service” and shared videos online of police officers shoving participants.

Last month, some 75 protestors entered the AGO and temporarily shut down its KAWS exhibition. Similar demonstrations had been taking place globally, at museums in New York, Berlin, and London. At the AGO, protestors carried signs reading “Why did Wanda go?” in reference to the sudden departure of the institution’s first-ever curator for Indigenous art, Wanda Nanibush, last November. After posting in support of Palestine online, the museum received a letter from the Israel Museum and Arts, Canada (IMAAC) accusing her of “hate speech.” Her departure, which the museum has described as a “mutual decision,” was met with outrage by many in Canada’s arts and Indigenous communities.

Meanwhile, both Meloni’s minister for culture in Italy and the Venice Biennale itself have ruled out the possibility of excluding Israel from the forthcoming 60th edition, following the publication of an open letter by the Art Not Genocide Alliance. So far, it has over 21,000 signatories including Nan Goldin, Turner Prize-winner Jesse Darling, and many more artists, writers and curators. Meloni’s far-right leaning government has installed several right-wing commentators in powerful positions within Italy’s cultural sphere, most notably the highly controversial appointment of journalist Pietrangelo Buttafuoco as the new president of the Venice Biennale.

The activist groups involved in organizing the protest were Artists Against Artwashing, WAWOG Toronto, Palestinian Youth Movement, Toronto 4 Palestine, and Filmworkers for Palestine. The AGO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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