Credits: MICHAEL PEAKE/SUN MEDIA
TORONTO -- An outspoken anti-Muslim protester was arrested after a small demonstration outside Ontario Liberal Party headquarters Wednesday and charged with uttering threats and assault with a weapon.
But a friend who witnessed the arrest said police intervention at the protest was an example of officers overreaching their authority and infringing on freedom of speech.
Eric Brazau, 48, was arrested as he picketed outside the downtown building.
Dressed like an imam in traditional Islamic garb, Brazau was there to protest Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi's letter of congratulations to a Muslim author for a book which supports men physically punishing their wives with a small stick.
Brazau's friend, Ron Banerjee, said he was reading verses from the Qur'an. He was also acting out a skit with a female protester dressed in a niqab, pretending to hit her with a stick.
"He was doing great street theatre," Banerjee said. "People were laughing, but then the cops pulled up."
An officer spoke to Brazau and let him continue the protest. As Brazau began to wrap up the protest he got into a shouting match with a woman across the street from the building, Banerjee said.
At that point, officers moved in and arrested him. They questioned Banerjee, confiscated his videotape and then let him go.
"It's quite ridiculous," Banerjee said. "For saying something about Islam and exercising his rights to free speech, because someone gets offended, he gets arrested."
Toronto Police Const. Tony Vella said he could not comment on the circumstances surrounding Brazau's arrest.
"Obviously, people have a right to express their views," Vella said. "But our main function is to keep the peace.
When someone is there committing a criminal offence, they will be charged."
Brazau has also been charged with two counts of failing to comply with a recognizance order. He is expected to appear in court Friday.
Brazau became a public figure when he held up a sign that stated "Soldier's Die, Electricians Die and People Die" on one side and "No Police State" on the other at the enormous police funeral for Toronto Police Sgt. Ryan Russell last year.
He was taken away in handcuffs but later released without charges.