By TOM GODFREY
Mayor John Tory has been on the job for a few days now and vows one of his first tasks is to claim a seat on the high-profile Toronto Police Services Board to bring about changes in the way communities are being policed.
Tory has stressed that he is not happy in the way Toronto is being policed and wants all residents to be treated equally whether they’re from Jane and Finch or ritzy Rosedale.
He has removed from the seven-member Board Councillors Michael Thompson and Frances Nunziata, who have held the positions through tumultuous times.
Thompson has been vocal on issues relating to racial profiling and carding, and the large number of street searches being conducted by officers against Blacks.
Tory admits, and many of us knew, that some members of the Board and outgoing Chief Bill Blair were at odds and had reached a strained relationship, that some said affected services to the community.
The Mayor will have a great deal of influence on a new Board that will include a new Chief, councillors and board members.
One only has to look at this month’s results of a Community Satisfaction Survey of residents of 31 Division that found more than half of the 400 residents polled believed officers abuse their power; and more than one in three felt that police are dishonest and unfair in their practices.
The survey said more than 40 per cent of male youth reported being intimidated by police and a quarter of those polled said they would not report a crime to police.
Blair has been a strong critic of the results of the survey and how it was carried out.
Tory seems to have listened to the concerns of members of our community about racial profiling and carding as he made his rounds during the campaign.
Many residents believe it is a good thing for him to sit, or even chair, the Board to alleviate some of the politics by members and improve service for communities.
Tory vowed last week that under his leadership, Toronto officers will represent all communities equally and fairly.
He promised that cops will be held accountable for their actions and face consequences for bad decisions.
It is encouraging to hear the new Mayor promising equality and accountability. Those qualities are important for members of the visible minority communities who have suffered and been marginalized for too long.
One doesn’t have to go far these days to see what bias policing can do to communities. We just have to look at the daily protests and mistrust against cops in Ferguson, Missouri, that fanned out to other U.S. cities following the killing of Michael Brown.
The protests also took place in Toronto, where about 500 people staged a peaceful demonstration last week called “Black Lives Matter” in front of the U.S. Consulate General on University Ave.
That also led to a plea by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations for more tolerance.
“People are protesting in Ferguson, and in other parts of the U.S. and here in Toronto because there are disturbing patterns that illustrate that non-White citizens and residents are more vulnerable to state violence than White citizens,” said Alliance president Gary Pieters in a release.
Black Lives Matter does not mean that only Black people care, or that only the Black community is concerned, he said.
“Discriminatory policing shames and diminishes us all when some people are more vulnerable to police action,” said Pieters. “This should be everyone’s concern, because we are all in this society together, and police services exist for all of us.”
We all know that the Toronto cops have been far from perfect in the past for their handling of visible minorities, those who are mentally challenged or the homeless. But that is far better, some say, than the policing that exists against Blacks in Ferguson.
Tory no doubt will face a steep learning curve in the next few months. That he will be sitting on the Board and working towards making policing in Toronto equal for all citizens, is hopeful and welcoming news.