Toronto / July 31, 2017 / - Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change (COP-COC) is outraged that a Toronto resident’s attempt to exercise his democratic right to peaceful protest resulted in a charge of trespass, a fine, and ban on entering a public building.
On July 27, community activist Desmond Cole was thrown out of a Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) meeting and charged with trespass, reportedly for bringing up an issue that was not on the meeting agenda.
The issue he wanted to raise was the vicious beating and severe injury of Dafonte Miller, a 19 year old black man, by two adult men one of whom was an off-duty Toronto Police officer, and the subsequent troubling actions by various Police organizations including Toronto Police. The attack has left Mr. Miller with severe injuries, loss of an eye and likely life-long trauma.
Mr. Cole should not have been asked to leave on the pretense that he was speaking to a matter not on the agenda. It leaves us to wonder if any of us risk being expelled and charged with trespassing if we do not speak strictly to the agenda set by TPSB or any other City body or Committee. TPSB Chair Andrew Pringle and Mayor John Tory have shown a shameful lack of leadership. They have left us in doubt as to whether the public can ever be heard in such forums, which are often the only spaces we have to ask questions and express concerns to those charged with public oversight.
The fact that TPSB was not willing to provide the public with the opportunity to have their concerns heard at yesterday’s meeting is deeply troubling. The fact that a Toronto resident’s peaceful protest at a public meeting of the civilian oversight body was met with arrest and trespass charges is cause for serious concern in a democratic society. Further, it happened at time when Black and other racialized communities are raising important questions about confidence in police and particularly whether young people can feel safe on our streets.
Toronto Police Chief Saunders has announced that Waterloo Police will conduct a mandatory independent investigation of Toronto Police with respect to the attack on Mr. Miller. However a review of one police force by another does not inspire trust that it will be truly independent, since they are similar institutions with similar outlook and within similar if not the same power structure. To be truly independent as well as transparent, a review should be undertaken by an external third party – ideally modelled on the approach taken in Thunder Bay, with the appointment of Senator Sinclair to investigate systemic racism in Thunder Bay Police.
COP - COC supports Mr. Cole in his efforts to hold TPSB accountable and calls on Toronto Police to drop all charges against him and lift the ban on his presence at Toronto Police Headquarters. Since all TPSB meetings are held there, the ban effectively prevents Mr. Cole access to any future meetings and to exercise his democratic right to hold this public institution accountable. We call on the City of Toronto, especially Mayor Tory to speak out and act in defence of the democratic right to peaceful protest.
COP - COC also calls on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Marie-France Lalonde – Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and Michael Coteau – Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism to take urgent action to ensure that an attack such as the one faced by Mr. Miller never happens again in this province, that he and his family receive support and restitution. We call on them to act decisively to restore public confidence in police, the Special Investigations Unit and in the justice system.