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Protesting the police

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Enraged over the controversial arrest of one of their fellow classmates, three students—including Max Naylor, son of U of T president David Naylor—organized a protest at Northern Secondary School last Thursday, October 22, to speak out against the presence of police officers at their school.

Naylor began organizing the protest after an officer arrested a classmate on school property earlier this month because the student failed to show proper identification that proved his enrollment at the school. The student resisted arrest and got into an altercation with the police officer, which was videotaped and placed on Youtube. The student was indeed enrolled at Northern.

The demonstration was not only about the specific incident, but rather the School Resource Officer program in its entirety. Toronto Police introduced the SRO program to the Toronto District School Board about two years ago. Under the initiative, uniformed and armed police officers are assigned to a school in their division to help patrol the hallways and ensure a “safe environment.”

Because of the SRO program, a student who would have normally been sent to the principal’s office and received a detention is now facing criminal charges. Students at Northern already have to wear identification badges, which should be sufficient enough. Although reports have shown that suspension rates at Northern are lower due to the SRO program, these improved statistics come at the expense of the constant unease and paranoia that the students experience in the classroom on a daily basis.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair suggested the initiative after the release in 2008 of the Falconer Report, which was commissioned by the TDSB to look into issues of school safety after the tragic killing of Jordon Manners at C.W. Jeffery’s high school in 2007. Referencing this report, the official Toronto Police Services statement argues that the program aims to build “healthy and trusting relationships” between police and students. Chief Blair assures that trusting students will be more inclined to report incidents of offence, and more reporting will prevent crime and violence.

Yet of the 136 recommendations listed to improve school safety in the Falconer Report, not one recommended stationing police (armed or otherwise) inside schools. Lawyer Julian Falconer, the author of the report, says he is at a loss as to why school boards implemented the SRO program. However, the report did criticize the school board’s habit of concealing security problems, and recommended open dialogue and discussion with students and the community about safety issues. Approval to implement the SRO initiative in any one school only required support from the trustee, school principal, and superintendant of education.

Max Naylor told The Varsity that organizers decided to hold the protest against the wishes of school officials, in order to allow the public to speak on this issue. Upon learning Naylor was organizing the protest, school trustee Josh Matlow and the superintendent pulled him out of class and informed him that should he go ahead with the protest, he would be risk suspension.

The students stated two demands: first, to push for a public, open, publicized community hearing on the SRO issue at Northern, where all community members could attend and speak. Second, to retract Northern’s involvement with the SRO initiative.

Their hopes are that in fighting the placement of police officers in Northern, they will set an important precedent for other schools, where students will speak out as well.

Hopefully, the demonstration does not fall on deaf ears, and the TDSB takes a serious look into the situation at Northern Secondary School.