The University of Toronto’s Student Newspaper Since 1880

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Open letter: President Gertler, defund and abolish Campus Police

An institution premised on fear, domination, force does not make U of T safe
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
Policing on campus has come under scrutiny. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
Policing on campus has come under scrutiny. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

Editor’s Note: The following is a revised, public version of an originally private letter that was sent to U of T President Meric Gertler, alongside The Varsity, on July 31, 2020. 


Dear President Gertler,

Last November, we submitted a letter to you — signed by over 100 faculty, staff, and students — which called for an end to the practice of calling Campus Police when a student is experiencing distress. As you recall, this protocol led to the arrest and handcuffing of a student who was seeking counselling from the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC) at UTM on October 2, 2019.

We did not receive a response from you regarding that letter. Instead, we received a letter from Ian Orchard, Acting Vice-President & Principal, UTM, which stated that the administration would be “reviewing the services and supports we offer students with mental health needs,” and that “Campus police are also reviewing protocols in this area.” To date, we have not received any assurances that campus police will not be called when students are experiencing distress at the University of Toronto.

Today, we write to you with a much more urgent demand, that the University of Toronto work toward removing Campus Police and all forms of policing from the university environment.

WE DEMAND THAT:

  1. The senior administration of the university immediately begin a comprehensive process for defunding and abolishing Campus Police and creating anti-carceral community safety initiatives;
  2. The university immediately halt all campus police involvement with students who seek support for health and wellness issues;
  3. The university end the practice of training invigilators to call Campus Police or 911 when they encounter a “difficult” student;
  4. Funding intended for further training and policy development for Campus Police be reallocated to the hiring of more counselors and trained personnel to support students in crisis;
  5. The senior administration of the university immediately rescind the following recommendations put forth in the December 2019 Report of the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health:

(a) The action item attached to R6 which calls for “enhanced mental health training for Campus Police and increase collaboration between Campus Police and other on-campus first responders (e.g., crisis response team, residence life staff)”;

(b) The action item attached to R6 calling for the university to “Enhance faculty and staff training related to handling after-hours student crises.” Our workload has already increased with the coronavirus pandemic. That money should go to hiring those with expertise in crisis intervention and the provision of mental health support;

(c) The action item attached to R16 that calls for the development of “a trauma-informed protocol to support Campus Police in their evaluation of the safety and risk of students transported to the hospital for further assessment be developed.”

Police intervention in mental health crises has repeatedly resulted in unnecessary and tragic deaths, including three within recent months. There is simply no excuse for the university to continue to place students in distress at further risk through involving police.

We stand with students and community organizers who are calling for police-free schools at all levels of education in Ontario. In doing so, the university will be following the widespread and growing recognition of the ways that policing endangers the well-being and lives of Black, Indigenous, racialized, disabled, and queer people. 

On campus, a number of racialized women have come forward to share their experiences of being ​handcuffed​ after seeking mental health support at U of T HCCs. Unfortunately, this does not surprise us.

The role of policing in upholding settler colonialism and racial capitalism is irrefutable as shown by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, D’Andre Campbell, Sean Reed, Steve Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Eishia Hudson, Jason Collins, Rodney Levi, and Chantel Moore, to name only a few of the Black and Indigenous people who have died following police intervention in the past few months in North America.

The institution of the police is irredeemably racist and threatening to Indigenous and Black life. Therefore, the University of Toronto must end all partnerships with Toronto Police Services and all carceral institutions and work with members of the university and surrounding communities identified by staff, students, and faculty to foster safer campuses.

We are particularly concerned that as the campus opens up in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black people and Black female students in particular will be especially at risk. As Beverly Bain, OmiSoore Dryden, and Rinaldo Walcott note:

The attempt to interrupt the spread of the virus has brought together policing and public health. Since at least the post-emancipation period in the Americas — and this period includes Canada — public health and policing have been launched against Black communities. Both public health and policing depend on assessing Black people as wayward.

The calls to defund and abolish police are increasingly global and supported by research that shows us that policing does not make people safe. It is an institution premised on the assumed need for fear, domination, and force; it threatens, harms, and sometimes kills. Hundreds of academics and lawyers across Canada have written an open letter calling for all jurisdictions to defund the police in order to invest in healthier communities and well-being. Specifically, they note:

Defunding the police is not a panacea. It is also not an invitation to privatize security or extend the scope of surveillance to other institutional bodies. It is one change among many that is needed to bring about a more just and less violent future. For these reasons and more, we call on governing bodies at all levels to take immediate action in support of building strong communities, not strong police forces. We expect that our governments will listen to the evidence provided to them and take the necessary steps now.

In June 2020, Ryerson University heeded the call and made the decision to cancel its proposed special constable program. We sincerely hope that the University of Toronto will not be left behind in this moment of transformational change.

Defunding the police is only the beginning of this change. It must be followed by broader commitments to learn from Black and Indigenous movements and scholars, communities, and political movements who have developed and are developing modes of caring that are ethical and promote the well-being of all.

On June 2, 2020, the University of Toronto released a statement in solidarity with “the Black community.” We welcome the sentiment, stated by University of Toronto’s Vice-President of Human Resources and Equity, Kelly Hannah-Moffat, that “Racism is not an issue for racialized communities to fight; it impacts everyone and it is our collective responsibility to purposefully work to create inclusive spaces that actively support our colleagues.”

Today, we call on the administration to act on its commitment to Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities by being true to its words. We call on the University of Toronto to defund and remove Campus Police from the University of Toronto. 

Sincerely,

Vannina Sztainbok, Social Justice Education, OISE

rosalind hampton, Assistant Professor, Black Studies, Social Justice Education, OISE

Beverly Bain, Women & Gender Studies, Historical Studies, UTM

Rinaldo Walcott, Professor, Women & Gender Studies Institute

Tanya Titchkosky, Professor, Social Justice Education, OISE

Rod Michalko, Retired Professor, Social Justice Education, OISE

Deborah Cowen, Professor, Geography & Planning

Gavin Smith, Professor Emeritus, Anthropology

Anne-Emanuelle Birn, Professor, Centre for Critical Development Studies, UTSC, and Dalla Lana School of Public Health

Kristen Bos, Assistant Professor, Historical Studies / Women & Gender Studies Institute

Kathy Liddle, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Sociology

Paolo Frascà, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Department of Italian Studies

Nicole Laliberte, Associate Professor, Geography, Geomatics and Environment, UTM

Luisa Farah Schwartzman, Associate Professor, Sociology, UTM

Stan Doyle-Wood, Assistant Professor, Equity Studies / Transitional Year Program, New College

George Dei, Professor, Social Justice Education

Gail Super, Assistant Professor, Sociology

Aziza Chaouni, Associate Professor, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design

John Noyes, Professor, Germanic Languages and Literatures

Anne McGuire, Associate Professor, Equity Studies

Rachel La Touche, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Sociology

Anup Grewal, Assistant Professor, Historical and Cultural Studies, UTSC

Shahrzad Mojab, Professor, OISE

Uzoma Esonwanne, Associate Professor, Department of English and Centre for Comparative Literature

James Deutsch, Assistant Professor, Psychiatry

Patrick Keilty, Associate Professor, Faculty of Information

John P. Portelli, Professor, Social Justice Education, OISE

Jayeeta Sharma, Associate Professor, Historical and Cultural Studies Department, UTSC

Erik Schneiderhan, Associate Professor, Sociology

Whitney Kemble, Librarian, UTSC

Cynthia J. Cranford, Associate Professor, Sociology, UTM

Dana Seitler, Professor, Director, English and Sexual Diversity Studies

Jens Hanssen, Associate Professor, History, and Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations

Brian Price, Professor, Visual Studies, UTM

Natalie Rothman, Associate Professor, Historical and Cultural Studies, UTSC

Kristin Plys, Assistant Professor, Sociology

Kanishka Goonewardena, Associate Professor, Geography & Planning

Alissa Trotz, Professor, Caribbean Studies, and Women & Gender Studies

Ted Sammons, Assistant Professor (CLTA), Diaspora & Transnational Studies

Iliana Sztainbok, Graduate Programs Administrator, Faculty of Music

Bettina von Lieres, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, UTSC

Melanie J. Newton, Associate Professor, History, UTSG

J. David Hulchanski, Professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work

Scott Richmond, Associate Professor, Cinema Studies Institute

Nicholas Sammond, Professor, Cinema Studies Institute

Connie Guberman, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, Historical and Cultural Studies, UTSC

Elena Basile, Sessional Lecturer II, Sexual Diversity Studies, University College

Roberta Buiani, Lecturer, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology

Naomi Seidman, Professor, Religion and Diaspora Studies

Phil Goodman, Associate Professor, Sociology, UTM

Kristy Bard, Grievance Officer, United Steelworkers 1998

Cameron Gilpin, Field Services Technician, Information Technology Services

Dina Georgis, Associate Professor, Women & Gender Studies Institute

Emily Gilbert, Professor, Vice-Principal, University College, Canadian Studies and Geography & Planning

Karina Vernon, Associate Professor, English

Rebecca Lee, Admin support, Munk School

Kass Banning, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, Cinema Studies Institute

Michelle Daigle, Assistant Professor, Centre for Indigenous Studies and Department of Geography & Planning

Michelle Buckley, Associate Professor, Human Geography, UTSC

Matthew Farish, Associate Professor, Department of Geography & Planning

Rupaleem Bhuyan, Associate Professor, Social Work

Marcelo Vieta, Associate Professor, Leadership, Higher and Adult Education

Néstor E. Rodríguez, Associate Professor, Spanish & Portuguese

Dr. Joan Simalchik, Director, Women and Gender Studies Program / UTM, Historical Studies

Julius Haag, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Sociology

Ellen Berrey, Associate Professor, Sociology, UTM

Jamie Magnusson, Associate Professor, Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, OISE

Marieme Lo, Associate Professor, African Studies and Women & Gender Studies

Nik Redman, United Steelworkers 1998

Sam Tecle, Assistant Professor, New College

Matthew Hoffman, Professor, UTSC, Political Science

Anna Thomas, Assistant Professor, English

Eve Tuck, Associate Professor, Social Justice Education

Julie MacArthur, Associate Professor, Historical Studies

Chandni Desai, Assistant Professor, Equity Studies, New College

W. Chris Johnson, Assistant Professor, Women & Gender Studies Institute and History

Sarah Switzer, Postdoctoral Fellow, Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, OISE

Justen Bennett, Building Reception, Rotman School of Management

Ely Lyonblum, Research Grants Officer, Faculty of Music

Evelyn Austin, Undergraduate Student, Mathematics

Connor Plantinga, Student, English

Roxana Erao, Student, English

Grace Cameron, Student, Women & Gender Studies / English

Kristina Schwill, Undergraduate Student, Faculty of Arts & Science / New College

Megan Pham-Quan, Undergraduate Student, Women & Gender Studies / Philosophy / French Studies

Mariba Douglas, PhD Student, Geography & Planning

Jessica Kirk, Graduate Student, Social Justice Education

Fiona Wilson, Graduate Student, Linguistics

Sefanit Habtom, PhD Candidate, Social Justice Education

Lisa Schlegl, PhD Student, Linguistics

Ruth Maddeaux, PhD Candidate, Linguistics

Samantha Hatoski, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy

Robert Prazeres, PhD Candidate, Linguistics

Marissa Adamou, Humanities

Laura Toth, Undergraduate Student, Department of English, Arts & Science

Wallis Caldoza, PhD Student, SJE, OISE/UT

Leah Montange, PhD Candidate, Geography & Planning

Shannon Giannitsopoulou, SJE MA Candidate, SJE, OISE 

Raluca Geampana, Undergraduate Student, Arts & Science

Bronte Shamata Gardner, Postgraduate Student, Psychology, UTSC

Alisha Krishna, Student, Faculty of Law

Katie Bannon, Graduate Student, Social Justice Education

Sefanit Habtom, PhD Candidate, Social Justice Education, OISE

Nicole Anderson, Graduate Student, Social Justice Education, OISE

Sujata Thapa, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography & Planning

AJ Bedward, MA Candidate, Social Justice Education, OISE

Elaine Cagulada, PhD Student, Social Justice Education

Emmanuel Rutayisire, Graduate Student, Curriculum & Pedagogy, OISE

Diana Barrero, PhD Student, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

Efrat Gold, PhD Student, Leadership, Higher and Adult Education

Pedro Morán Bonilla, PhD Candidate, Social Justice Education

Robyn Maynard, PhD Student, Women & Gender Studies Institute

Sophie Bourret-Klein, MA Student, Social Justice Education, OISE

Asmita Bhutani, PhD Student, OISE

Janelle Brady, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

Nadine Abdel-ghafar, MA Candidate, Social Justice Education

Mao Thao, Student, OISE

Emma McCallum, MA Candidate, SJE, OISE

Christine Sun, Undergraduate Student, Political Science, Human Geography, Critical Equity and Solidarity Studies

Yusra Shafquat, Undergraduate Student, Molecular Genetics, Cell and Systems Biology

Jessica Wright, PhD Candidate, Department of Social Justice Education

Kevin Yamandu Sztainbok, Student, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design

Chelsey Rhodes, PhD Student, Social Justice Education, OISE

Nikki Mary Pagaling, Alum (Class of 2020), Geography & Planning

Kristine Luangkhot, Alum, School of the Environment

Alessandra Sztrimbely, Alum, MSc Anthropology & International Relations, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy

Christina Vani, Alum, Department of Italian Studies

Brieanne Berry Crossfield, Alum, OISE

Tania Caballero, Chair, Students for Barrier-free Access

Philip S. S. Howard, OISE/U of T Alumnus; Assistant Professor, Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

Danielle Sandhu, Alumna, OISE

OmiSoore Dryden, PhD Alum (Class 2016), Social Justice Education, Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, OISE

Andrea Vásquez Jiménez, MEd Graduate (2019) / #PoliceFreeSchoolsONWide Organizer, Social Justice Education, OISE

Jennifer Nelson, Alum, PhD, OISE/UT, 2001

Patricia Molloy, Alumna, OISE

Marie Laing, Alum, OISE

Lucinda Qu, Faculty of Arts & Science (2020)

Chelsea Fung, Alum, Women & Gender Studies Institute