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Community rallies together following anti-Black hate crime in Toronto: ‘It has to stop’

Click to play video: 'Toronto police investigating discovery of nooses at construction site as hate crime' Toronto police investigating discovery of nooses at construction site as hate crime
Construction company Ellis Don says two Black workers found two nooses in their workspace at a worksite at Toronto's Michael Garron Hospital. As Shallima Maharaj reports, police are investigating the discovery as a hate crime. – Jun 23, 2020

Community members are rallying together in response to an anti-Black racist hate crime that happened at a construction site at Michael Garron Hospital, where two nooses were placed in areas at which two Black workers were stationed.

The nooses were found on the morning of June 10 by the two Black workers who were starting their shifts, according to EllisDon, the construction company that’s building a patient care tower for Michael Garron Hospital.

Read more: ‘We’re sick and tired of it’: Members of Toronto neighbourhood share stories of anti-Black racism

The Toronto Police Service says it’s investigating the incident as a hate crime, and EllisDon says it’s hired a Toronto-based law firm to conduct another independent investigation.

According to Toronto police, the construction site is closed and not accessible to the general public.

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“I was horrified. It actually made me feel physically ill,” Rima Berns-McGown, MPP of Beaches–East York, said of the incident.

“Somebody who does this knows exactly what they’re doing.”

Last week, Berns-McGown and Toronto–Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns penned an open letter to the Toronto police chief, as well as to Michael Garron Hospital’s and EllisDon’s CEOs.

The letter challenged all parties to follow through on responding to the hate crime and on addressing racism.

“We need to know that the police are following through on their investigation with haste and purpose,” the letter read.

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“We also want to know how Michael Garron Hospital and EllisDon Construction are each supporting the Black and other racialized construction workers at the site.”

Berns-McGown told Global News the letter was intended to make sure that the police, hospital and construction company take the incident seriously.

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“At construction sites, people die,” Berns-McGown said. “You rely on your colleagues to keep you alive and safe.”

On Thursday, EllisDon president and CEO Geoff Smith responded to Berns-McGown’s and Tabuns’ letter, outlining a list of actions the company is taking to support its racialized employees and to combat racism.

“We have an employee assistance program available to all employees, including those at the affected project site,” Smith said in the letter.

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“In addition to this, we have created an internal anti-racism group to discuss next steps for developing a company-wide action plan that will make our job sites safer and more inclusive.”

Smith also said EllisDon has asked the Toronto law firm conducting an internal investigation to provide recommendations and additional steps to support employees and to address anti-Black racism.

Read more: ‘We have to stand up’: 10-year-old Ontario boy releases poignant video on racism, George Floyd

On Friday, Michael Garron Hospital president and CEO Sarah Downey said she is “absolutely disgusted and appalled” by the hate crime.

“We are doing everything we can to support EllisDon and Toronto Police in their investigation,” Downey said in a statement.

Toronto police confirmed that numerous officers have been assigned to the case and that investigators are taking statements in relation to the hate crime.

On Monday, Old’s Cool General Store, which is located just over 10 blocks away from Michael Garron Hospital, took to social media to voice its outrage over the incident. The local business is also known for pursuing social justice activism.

“People really need to know that these things happen and continue to happen in Toronto,” Zahra Dhanani, the owner of Old’s Cool General Store and a longtime community organizer, said of the hate crime Tuesday.

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“There’s a really, really strong sense of self-righteousness, I think, in Canada, that we’re not as bad as the States. There are so many things happening in our country that are really, really harmful.”

Dhanani said she’s spoken with a number of community members and that there’s already plans in place to create a community activism art project at the hospital’s construction site.

Read more: Ontario health leaders call on province to declare anti-Black racism public health crisis

“We’re going to send a pretty serious message through an art installation that we’re going to get the whole community to participate in,” Dhanani said, adding that she’s also working on engaging all the parties involved with the hate crime in a restorative justice process.

“It’s not just a punish the offender response, which is our current paradigm in terms of the legal system,” Dhanani, who previously practiced as a lawyer, said.

“It really comes from ground-up community-based solutions.”

Next week, MPPs Berns-McGown and Tabuns will be hosting a public forum to address the hate crime.

“Holding the public officials to account and having the community have answers is a really important piece,” Berns-McGown said.

“The other piece is that community has ideas about what to do to make the east end a safer place because we’ve had hateful incidents here for a long, long time.”

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Anyone with information is asked to contact Toronto police at 416-808-5500 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477.

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