The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has issued a statement demanding a public inquiry into the University of Toronto Campus Police, in wake of recent events, particularly the “U of T Rally for Free Speech” held at Sidney Smith Hall on October 11.
The rally contained instances of violence and tension between some rally attendees and individuals who came to protest, the latter comprised of many members of the trans and non-binary community.
The UTSU statement focuses on what the union describes as inadequate response from campus police to alleged assaults against members of the trans community.
“An investigation by the administration—to which students have no access—will not be sufficient, an investigation must be public and done by an unbiased party,” reads part of the statement.
UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike explained to The Varsity that the union is seeking “an investigation into how Campus Police responds to situations in which students — especially marginalized students — need protection. We’re especially concerned by how Campus Police interacted with trans students. Just standing there isn’t helpful and frankly, it is unacceptable. The university has a responsibility to ensure that students are free to express themselves and their identities. They can’t do that when violence is tolerated. There’s an issue of Campus Police taking less of an interest in the safety of marginalized students.”
The UTSU claims that the Campus Police “refused to intervene when they knew of and saw trans folks being assaulted.” On the role of campus police, U of T Media Relations Director Althea Blackburn-Evans stated, “Their role is to keep the peace… If something might get physical in any circumstance, they would be able to step in and address that as appropriate.”
She continued, “The university is now looking very closely at the events that unfolded and is committed to doing its work to investigate that and to look at all the various pieces and what occurred and what we might do about that.”
Toronto Police Services are also investigating online threats issued against transgender and non-binary students, prompting a response from Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat.
“In the face of violence, hate speech, and threats, trans students are not safe on campus and similarly, in the face of hateful and racist remarks, black students are not safe on campus either,” the UTSU’s statement continues. “It is unacceptable for the Campus Police to fail in their responsibility to keep students safe from violence on campus, and specifically against trans students.”
Blackburn-Evans emphasized that the university wants to “absolutely condemn any acts of violence or threats against our community but also to ensure that anybody who’s feeling unsafe knows the resources that are available on our campuses, the safety resources that are available, so we really want to encourage students… who are feeling unsafe to contact the community safety office, as one of those key resources.”
“The University has a responsibility to act proactively, before this violence occurs, as per their mandate to provide a campus environment that is free from discrimination and harassment,” continued Denike in her statement. “As for the administration, we’d like to see everyone who works at U of T, including tenured professors, receiving training in gender identity and the barriers facing trans and non-binary students and they must consult trans students in doing this. We’ll be lobbying the administration to implement that.”
“Trans people are now protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code, so the university has legal obligations as well as moral ones. It must fulfill these obligations by taking action to ensure the safety of trans students,” she continued
On the subject of discussion on campus and protection of students, Blackburn-Evans stated on behalf of the administration that while everybody has the right to express their views, “they also have a responsibility to follow the law, to follow the Ontario Human Rights code for example, and to follow UofT policies which are in line with the Code.”