Multiple charges laid after Pickering car rally draws more than a thousand people

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Published June 1, 2021 at 2:59 pm

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A car rally in a Walmart parking lot in Pickering May 23 attracted about 400 cars and more than 1,000 people and resulted in a slew of charges from Durham Regional Police (DRPS), ranging from illegal gathering to dangerous driving and assault.

As well, police and the Air 1 helicopter were involved in a high-speed pursuit on Highway 401 with a vehicle, with speeds reaching 170 km/hr, that ended when the car crashed on Bayly Street in Pickering. Two handguns were seized by police and DRPS Inspector Mitch Martins said the occupants of the vehicle were on their way to the rally.

Martins told Pickering Council May 25 his officers were aware of the rally because organizers advertised the event on social media, calling it ‘Redemption Car Meet.’ The event was actually planned the week before but did not happen, he added.

Police considered shutting down the plaza, but plaza owner SmartCentres was “not in favour,” so Martins said DRPS increased staffing and had two Pickering By-law officers and Air 1 on standby.

Martins said there were about 100 cars when police arrived on site at 2 pm, and most of the people were “eating chicken wings” and behaving peacefully. “It was almost like an old-fashioned car meet,” he said. But that all changed after dark, he added. “The people who were still there were there to cause anarchy.”

By 5 pm the numbers had grown to more than 200 vehicles and 500 people and the group was told it was an illegal gathering and told to disperse. Martins said they had some success convincing people to leave but others soon took their place and by 8 pm the number of people had swelled to more than a thousand and “there was a lot of civil disobedience.”

There were just three officers on site at the time, Martins added, because others had left to assist with the high-speed chase on Bayly Street. Police did not ask the by-law officers for assistance because they “could not guarantee their safety.”

“We were also concerned,” Martins added, “that if we were able to disperse the crowd they would just go to several different locations and split our resources.”

A 9-1-1 call was received about 9 p.m. about an assault, prompting other police cruisers to arrive and police were eventually able to convince the crowd to leave the plaza.

Investigators also charged a 19-year-old Clarington man with driving dangerously during the car rally. Mitchell Powell-Galiffi was seen spinning his Hyundai Elantra in an uncontrolled manner, nearly hitting onlookers gathered around, before colliding with another vehicle.

Police also laid 54 other charges throughout the day for minor Highway Traffic Act offenses.

Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan took to Twitter to denounce the rally that night, asking residents to not be careless “especially now that we can see light at the end of this long tunnel.”

“We’re close to returning to some level of normalcy. Don’t do a disservice to the rest of our community.”

In a phone interview with CBC News, Ryan said the meet-up was a “total disregard for society” and “just wrong on so many levels.”

Provincial COVID-19 restrictions currently in place limit outdoor gatherings to a maximum of five people.

Police are continuing to investigate.

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