“To serve and protect who?”

Toronto Police should listen to marginalized LGBTQ+ folks and attend Pride — without the badge

“To serve and protect who?”

Last month, Olivia Nuamah, executive director of Pride Toronto, announced that the Toronto Police Service (TPS) will march in the 2019 parade in uniform, following their absence in the last two parades.

In the 2016 parade, a Black Lives Matter protest successfully demanded that police floats be removed and officers not show up in uniform for future parades. Some view the upcoming re-entry of police as a step forward for the community’s relationship with the TPS.

But it has also drawn ire, particularly among marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community, whose negative experiences with the TPS had made it difficult for them to attend the event in the past. They had been strongly supportive of the absence of the TPS.

One can understand the desire to portray a united front when trying to achieve reconciliation. The presence of the TPS at the Pride Parade might one day become a symbol of the triumph of community and love over injustice and persecution.

However, it is inappropriate to access this symbol until that triumph has actually been attained in an effective and permanent capacity. Many of the most vulnerable among us still feel as though their relationship with the police has a long way to go toward respect and repair. 

A demonstration in opposition to police in uniform at Pride was held in front of Pride Toronto’s headquarters on November 3. Organized by Ashley Cooper, the Facebook event for the demonstration drew support from over 1,000 individuals.

The event was attended by leaders in the LGBTQ+ community, including Nick Mulé, an associate professor at York University and the Chair of Queer Ontario, sociologist and activist Gary Kinsman, one of Canada’s leading academics on LGBTQ+ issues, and Alphonso King Jr., also known as DJ Relentless and Jade Elektra.

Their speeches were impassioned, focused, and reflected a bitter frustration toward the executive directorship of Pride Toronto for what feels to many community members like a severe betrayal of Pride’s history of resistance.

It is important to recognize that the Pride festival exists to commemorate the progress made by activists against decades of violence abetted and often executed by governmental and law enforcement bodies. 

Kinsman opened his address by introducing himself as one of the organizers of Toronto’s first Pride event held in  June 1981.

“I want to remind people a little bit first of all about the history of that first Pride. 1981 was the year of the bath raids and the mass resistance on the part of our communities to the police invasions of our lives, the arrests, and all of the horror that occurred as a result of those raids.”

37 years ago, on February 5, 1981, the Metropolitan Toronto Police conducted a raid of four bathhouses, arresting 286 men and prompting outrage from Toronto’s gay and lesbian community and its public allies.

Toronto Pride Week grew out of the mass protests that ensued, which were organized against not only the raids, but also against the systemic discrimination of the queer community perpetrated by the city’s police force. 

The insistence that the officers be allowed to march in uniform is accordingly troubling. The attempt to paint the social institution of policing as an ally in those achievements, as opposed to its historical role as aggressor and deterrer, is misleading.

“It’s right there at the top of their website: ‘To Serve and Protect.’ But to serve and protect who?” Cooper asked of those in attendance at the November 3 demonstration.

Recent interactions between the community and the police indicate that the relationship is far from healed.

In the fall of 2016, it was brought to the public’s attention that the police were engaging in an undercover operation titled Project Marie, in which police arrested 72 individuals after luring them into soliciting sex acts at Marie Curtis Park. The 89 charges laid were almost entirely bylaw infractions, a baffling choice considering that undercover operations are utilized primarily for cases of criminal activity.

This year, the arrest of Bruce McArthur for the first-degree murder of eight men between 2010 and 2017 dug a deeper schism between the community and the TPS. In December 2017, already months into an investigation, Chief Mark Saunders claimed that there was no evidence of a serial killer targeting the gay community.

Not only did the TPS publicly deny the connection of the disappearances to a serial murderer, but a statement released by Pride Toronto in April revealed that the community had earlier voiced their concern about the disappearances, only to be dismissed by the investigators.

At the demonstration, it was made clear that many feel that the decision to once again extend the invitation to police is primarily based on a threat to Pride of losing its government funding.

“‘It has come to threaten our very existence as a publicly funded non-profit community organization.’ That is a direct quote from their statement,” Cooper cited from Pride Toronto’s announcement. 

To insist that the LGBTQ+ community be the first to extend their hands in friendship to the police, especially in invitation to an event that is such an emblem of rebellion against oppression, is neither fair nor reasonable when reciprocal efforts toward reconciliation have not yet been appropriately rendered.

“The people who wear the badge are welcome,” Cooper said. “It is the badge we have asked to stay at home.”

Anna Osterberg is a first-year Master of Teaching student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Arrests, violence at protest against Munk Debate hosting Steve Bannon

Police pepper-sprayed, struck demonstrators with batons

Arrests, violence at protest against Munk Debate hosting Steve Bannon

Hundreds of protesters massed outside Roy Thompson Hall tonight in a demonstration against the Munk Debate featuring Steve Bannon and David Frum.

Police have beaten protesters with batons, pepper sprayed the crowd, and arrested a number of demonstrators.

Bannon and Frum are debating the rise of populism. Bannon — the chief source of controversy — is the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, a far-right American media outlet, and a former White House Chief Strategist under Donald Trump. He has been criticized for his white nationalist views and associations with white supremacy.

Frum was a speechwriter for former US President George W. Bush as well as a political commentator.

The protest began outside the hall, but moved onto Simcoe Street, which was shut down for the demonstration.

As attendees began to line up to enter the venue, protesters converged on the police barricades, yelling “shame” at the line into Roy Thompson Hall.

Protesters were also asking police, “Who do you protect?”

The pepper spraying began as groups of masked protesters pushed along the barricade, opposing the attendees who were trying to enter the venue.

Police with batons were called in when protesters attempted to jump the barricade into Roy Thompson Hall. 

Toronto Police have reported that 12 people were arrested facing various charges. In addition, two police officers suffered “fairly minor” injuries — one officer was hit with a stick and another was punched in the face.

As of 10:18 pm, all roads were reopened.

Among the groups that attended the protest were the U of T Flying Squad, an activist wing of a U of T union; the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, a volunteer-based group at U of T; and Toronto ANTIFA, a left-wing anti-fascist group.

In a statement to The Varsity after the debate, the Flying Squad expressed concern about the lack of comment from the university on the debate, especially since U of T has received significant amounts of money from the Munk family and related groups, according to the Flying Squad.

In particular, the group points out that U of T professor Janice Stein and two U of T fellows sit on the Munk Debates advisory board, saying that this serves as proof of the inherent ties between the university and the Munk Debates organization.

The Varsity has reached out to OPIRG Toronto for comment.

Update (November 3, 2:14 am): This story has been updated to include more information from Toronto Police.

Update (November 8, 5:25 pm): This story has been updated to include comment from the Flying Squad.

Job applicants with criminal records need human rights protections

Students and graduates seeking employment opportunities can face discrimination and barriers due to police record checks

Job applicants with criminal records need human rights protections

For most students, employment opportunities, volunteering, and experiential learning are a necessary stage in one’s academic and professional career. For some students — particularly in nursing, or education, or even medicine — your credentials may not be enough to get a placement: various types of criminal record checks may be required. These ‘checks’ may also be a standard part of screening for an eventual job.

But what you may not know is that record checks can reveal a lot of information: information that is very old, irrelevant to the position being applied for, or even information that a person may not even be aware is there. Even though the person may be legally innocent — in that they have not been convicted of a crime — such information on a record can create barriers to placements and employment and therefore have a negative impact on someone’s future as young professionals.

Employers are using record checks more and more as a risk screening tool and as a result, these ‘checks’ may create a stigma rather than depicting the reality of the situation and therefore must be used with caution as a risk management tool. According to the John Howard Society, having a record can reduce someone’s chances of getting a job by up to 50 per cent, and that number is likely worse for racialized populations. Some employers have policies on what to do when they see a positive result on a criminal check; others might just put the application in the garbage.

Many of those who have never been convicted of a crime are unaware that the current operating system of police record checks in Ontario can still pose barriers to employment through revealing sensitive information to employers. This can occur through disclosing criminal charges that were withdrawn or stayed, charges in which the individual was acquitted, and non-criminal police contact when there was no conviction or finding of guilt. There are currently no province-wide standards on what type of information can or cannot be disclosed on various levels of record checks.

Over 100,000 cases on average are processed through Ontario courts every year. Of those, more than 40 per cent are withdrawn, stayed, or acquitted. According to the article “Race, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Canada”, by Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Scot Wortley, Indigenous people are overrepresented at nearly every stage of the criminal justice system. Moreover, Black people are overrepresented in cannabis possession arrests in Ontario. This police contact can be revealed in future background checks. However, allegations are not convictions. There is no legal basis for this information to appear in police background checks. It is important to notice that there is a racial dimension to the issue of non-conviction records and who they affect.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association created a report in 2012 with interviews of many who have lost educational or employment opportunities as a result of the disclosure of non-conviction records. Many of these people didn’t even know they had something on their record.

However, Ontario passed the Police Records Check Reform Act, 2015 on December 1 that year. Also known as Bill 113, the act standardizes disclosure practices across police services and promotes fairness and respect for the privacy of individuals when they request for a police record check. It will be implemented in law as of November 1, 2018.

There is currently very little protection in the Ontario Human Rights Code for people with criminal records, and no protection for people with non-conviction records, which means that employers are legally allowed to discriminate. It can also be the sole reason as to why you are denied a volunteer or employment opportunity. Even when the law comes into force later this year, employers should still know how to interpret a criminal or non-criminal record and should be encouraged to take a nuanced approach in assessing the relevance of a particular record to the specific position being applied for.

We as students must mobilize together and raise greater awareness about the barriers that the current system imposes on our professional future with regard to human rights protection. Raising awareness through engaging in activities such as signing petitions and participating in public demonstrations can be impactful. The Ontario Human Rights Commission must redefine how employer practices must be adhered to in the context of police record checks.

Sonia Gill and Proshat Babaeian both completed the 2017–2018 masters program in Criminology at the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies. They work with the John Howard Society of Ontario.

Shooting near St. George subway station hospitalizes two

SIU investigation closes Bedford Road

Shooting near St. George subway station hospitalizes two

A daytime shooting near UTSG is the subject of investigation by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

The shooting occurred at around 3:30 PM near Bedford Road and Prince Arthur Avenue — steps away from one of the entrances to St. George subway station. Toronto criminal lawyer Randall Barrs, who has his office on 23 Bedford Road, is among the two victims who are in serious condition.

Toronto Police Services and U of T Campus Police have closed off Bedford Road between Lowther Avenue and Bloor Street West.

The SIU is a civilian agency responsible for investigating instances involving police officers that result in serious injury, death, or sexual assault allegations and has the ability to lay criminal charges on officers, if the SIU Director believes charges are necessary.

This story is developing, more to follow

Five-hour lockdown at UTSG ends as Toronto Police conclude investigation

One man arrested, released without charges

Five-hour lockdown at UTSG ends as Toronto Police conclude investigation

Several buildings centred around the north-eastern part of the St. George campus were on lockdown after Toronto Police received calls about a suspicious person at 9:30 AM on June 13.

At 10:15 AM, students were alerted that Falconer Hall, the Faculty of Law, the Edward Johnson Building, the Munk School of Global Affairs, the Varsity Centre, and all building affiliated with Victoria University and Trinity College were closed. Students and faculty in these buildings at the time were asked to remain inside until the all-clear was given.

University Avenue and Queen’s Park Crescent were also closed between Bloor Street and Hoskin Avenue. The TTC had also announced that subways are also bypassing Museum Station.

The lockdown was lifted for all buildings on campus at around 3:15 PM. As well, the roads reopened and subway service to Museum Station resumed.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters that police had seen a photo of a “male subject, dressed in all black with a black knapsack and a mask” with reports of this person armed with a gun.

An arrest was also made, but Saunders said that the suspect was  “not the same likeness” as the person in the photo, and declined to elaborate further. The suspect was later released without charges.

Wycliffe College student Orvin Lao was coming out of Museum Station when the situation began to unfold and described the scene.

“Another pedestrian was telling me to duck and cover as there is a man with a rifle running around the Faculty [of Music]. And so I hid for a bit at the stairwell that led to the subway,” he told The Varsity. “I saw two female officers with unholstered firearms and another male officer a few yards ahead with an automatic assault rifle crouching.”

Convocation for Rotman MBA and St. Michael’s College graduates proceeded as usual.

In a statement, U of T president Meric Gertler thanked the Toronto Police, campus police, and members of the U of T community for acting swiftly: “I think I speak for many of us when I say that this has been a distressing day, but I am very relieved at the outcome.”

UPDATED: Several buildings at UTSG on lockdown after reports of armed person

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders confirms one person in custody, convocation unaffected

Update (June 13, 4:49pm): The lockdown has been lifted for all buildings on campus.

Several buildings centred around the north-eastern part of campus are on lockdown after Toronto Police received calls about a suspicious person at 9:30 AM.

The following buildings continue to be on lockdown as Toronto Police continue its investigation:

  • Falconer Hall — 84 Queen’s Park
  • Faculty Of Law — 78 Queen’s Park
  • Faculty Of Music: Edward Johnson Building — 80 Queen’s Park

Those who are already in these buildings are being asked to remain inside until the all-clear has been given.

Earlier today, the lockdown extended to more buildings on campus. The following buildings are no longer closed:

  • Trinity College — 6 Hoskin Avenue
  • Munk School Of Global Affairs — 1 Devonshire Place
  • Gerald Larkin Building — 15 Devonshire Place
  • Varsity Centre — 299 Bloor Street West
  • All buildings affiliated with Victoria University

In addition, Queen’s Park Crescent between Bloor Street and Hoskin Avenue remain closed off. The TTC has also announced that subways are also bypassing Museum station.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders told reporters that police has seen a photo of a “male subject, dressed in all black with a black knapsack and a mask” with reports of this person armed with a gun.

An arrest was also made, but Saunders said that the suspect in custody is “not the same likeness” as the person in the photo,  and declined to elaborate further

“We’re making sure we’re clearing as best to our abilities, utilizing our tactical officers, as well as our dogs to ensure we can maximize the safety of everybody here,” said Saunders.

Convocation for Rotman Graduate students was unaffected by the lockdown. Convocation for St. Michael’s College students will also go on as planned.

“We have no reason to believe there will be any safety concerns during convocation,” said U of T president Meric Gertler, in his convocation address for Rotman students.

This story is developing, more to follow.

Update (June 13, 12:08pm): This story has been updated to include comments from Mark Saunders and Meric Gertler.

Update (June 13, 2:24pm): The list of buildings under lockdown has been updated.

Is it really time to disarm the police?

Why Toronto cops should continue carrying firearms

Is it really time to disarm the police?

Last month, Toronto Star columnist Desmond Cole argued that the Toronto Police Service’s frontline officers should no longer carry guns, citing recent shootings of emotionally-disturbed persons. While frustration in light of these deaths is absolutely understandable, depriving Toronto’s patrol officers of lethal force would be an overreaction with dangerous consequences for police and civilians alike.

In defence of his proposition, Cole recalled two recent incidents in Montreal where armed suspects were subdued using rubber ammunition. He omitted, however, that in Montreal, as in Toronto, patrol officers still carry and use lethal firearms, because only specialized units have access to rubber ammunition. In the two incidents he touted, the suspects were surrounded for an extended period of time, which allowed the tactical unit sufficient time to arrive and make use of their less deadly weapons.

Less lethal weapons, such as rubber bullets and Tasers, are indeed valuable tools in policing, but they are merely a complement to, not a replacement for, lethal firearms. Rubber bullets are known to have a reduced expected accuracy (in comparison to regular ammunition), albeit they still cause serious injury or death when striking the head or neck. 

On the other hand, Tasers are extremely limited in range and rate of fire, and can be either too weak to incapacitate a suspect or so strong as to kill the target. Despite these limitations, Tasers cost around $1,500 each — twice the cost of a handgun — and would increase Toronto’s already massive police budget, if they were to be provided to all 5,000 frontline officers.

More importantly, the threat of gun crime in Toronto appears to remain present. Military grade weapons are seized from local criminal elements, and in 2015, there were 255 shootings in the city.

Furthermore, research shows that in 51 per cent of active shooter incidents in the United States from 2000-2010, the police arrived while the attack was ongoing. During 40 per cent of these occasions, the situation was resolved only when responding officers shot the suspect. Such incidents cannot be understood as an exclusively American phenomenon; civilians, politicians, members of the Canadian Forces, and police officers have all been targets in Canada in recent years. If anything, there is a case to be made for a faster and safer response to such events, meaning Canadian police officers should in fact be more heavily armed.

There still remains the issue that the use of lethal firearms to subdue a suspect is, in some cases, inappropriate and excessive. This is true, particularly when it comes to police interactions with those who are mentally ill. 

As residents of Toronto, we should require our police officers to be ready for anything.

Improvements are being made though; in each of the Toronto Police Service’s 17 divisions, there is almo∂st always a supervisor on duty who has a Taser. The Emergency Task Force and other specialized units also carry less lethal weapons. Additionally, Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams, comprised of a police officer and a mental health nurse, are available nearly 24/7 in 14 police divisions. The Toronto Police Service is also in the midst of a pilot project that examines the feasibility of three models of body cameras, devices that could have provided more details for investigation in shootings, like in the case of Andrew Loku.

Every police-involved death is a tragedy and, to some extent, could have been prevented. Police officers are placed in unimaginably stressful and dangerous situations every day, and the vast majority of these incidents are resolved peacefully. However, there are times when the force needed to protect the public is lethal. As residents of Toronto, we should equip our police officers to be ready for anything.

Emmett Choi is a fifth-year student at Victoria College studying philosophy and American Studies.