The provincial Liberal government plans to slash funding of the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) by $5 million, almost half the provincial funding of this police project.
This announcement comes at a time when the Liberal government has been holding community consultations on carding – the practice of stopping people on the street who are not being considered a suspect in a crime, questioning them on personal information and recording that data in police computers. The Ontario Human Rights Commission characterizes carding as a violation of Charter rights.
The recent consultation on carding by the province has already been questioned as a cover for the flip-flopping Toronto Mayor John Tory has exhibited on the issue in which he went from supporting the practice to stating he would call an end to it and then reversing himself again.
This de-funding gesture by the province may be an attempt to change the model of policing by trying to redirect the practice toward a more community cooperative model. Or, so the thinking goes. Yet, while the province will cut funding to TAVIS come January 2016, it will put an additional $4.7 million into the Toronto Police Service budget. If the province takes $5 million from one project but gives $4.7 million back, what are we supposed to conclude?
We would hate to think these politicians are playing word and numbers games with those who are most harmed by these corrosive police practices.
Looking back, the vision for TAVIS had been to develop better community policing and build better relations between targeted communities and the police to ensure community safety against a rise in gun violence. What it became instead in the minds of many of the residents who live in the so-called hotspot neighbourhoods was an occupying army that engaged in aggressive tactics.
In the nearly 10 years of the existence of TAVIS, news images of record show the heavy-handed militarized approach of armored officers battering down doors, often in subsidized Toronto Community Housing sites, at dawn in the search for guns.
These operations leave in their wake homes badly damaged and residents utterly traumatized. Those who fall inside the net of TAVIS raids, considered by the police as “collateral damage”, include small children and grandmothers.
As with carding, these residents are being targeted simply because of where they happen to live.
TAVIS officers have also led the numbers in the reprehensible practice of carding.
If the TAVIS project could be directly linked to a fall in crime rate within these communities, then there would at least be some justification for its existence. However, police officials have not been forthcoming with anything other than anecdotal information to support their contention that the project should continue.
It should not.
The unspoken dynamic within many police forces as they carry out their sworn duty to serve and protect in targeted communities is one of “us versus them”. This defensive stance has resulted too often in flash reactions in which an unarmed civilian is shot and killed by police.
As long as efforts by activist groups like the Black Action Defence Committee are dismissed at the moment of policy decision making, affected communities will continue to find they are at a standoff with police.
Police cannot serve and protect a community without taking into account the concerns and viewpoints of community members. Moreover, make-believe consultations such as the attempt that took place here in Toronto which was organized by the province are both a waste of time and an insult.
Targeted communities want to have a better relationship with police. The criminalization of entire communities by the police has proved to be a failure, and is costly in lives and trust lost and funding expended.
If the police board, the mayor and the province cannot come to the table with honest intentions, then those directly harmed will see them in court.