Ever since 15-year-old Jordan Manners was shot and killed at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, escalated scrutiny has surrounded violence in GTA high schools. Beginning September last year, uniformed police officers were introduced to high school campuses across Toronto. Individual schools can opt out of the measure, and some have held forums with their communities before considering implementation.
“Our goal is to make our schools safe,” said police chief Bill Blair. “We recognize this can only be accomplished if we develop and maintain a respectful and trusting relationship with all our partners.”
Not all community members want police in schools. A coalition of students, teachers, and parents have formed to encourage alternative solutions.
NO COPS, the Newly Organized Coalition Opposing Police in Schools, launched in December 2008. After C.W. Jefferys and Westview Centennial rejected cops on their campuses, the group is now concentrating their efforts on Weston Collegiate Institute.
Kabir Joshi-Vijayan, an activist and grade 10 student, has been working with NO COPS on campuses around Toronto. He is also one of the hosts for Radio Basics on CHRY 105.5, which looks at issues facing working class communities.
“I think they already know that this is not going to help safety,” said Joshi-Vijayan. “It’s being done just as another way to increase the harassment and targeting of marginalized people in the school.” He pointed out that such policies disproportionately affect youth of colour, citing teachers’ testimony from an Ontario Human Rights Commission report that up to 80 per cent of expulsion cases in Toronto are of non-white youth. Joshi-Vijayan also argued that parents’ councils often only benefit more privileged families, who are more likely to be able to participate. He favours a model that brings in more social workers, where schools are engaged with communities and students are not criminalized.
To Joshi-Vijayan, cops in Toronto high schools are not just a matter of preventing violence, but part of a wider system that keeps marginalized groups marginalized. “If there’s a kid that’s troubled, that’s maybe doing something bad in school, if you kick them out of school, that kid is right away in a situation where crime is the only alternative.”