TORONTO — Mask-wearing protesters spilled onto the street outside Toronto police headquarters on Thursday as the body that oversees the force held its fourth and final town hall on police reform.
The crowd demanded that the police force be defunded, disarmed or abolished, saying the proposals made by politicians — such as the implementation of body-worn cameras — don’t go far enough and arguing the public consultations were unlikely to result in meaningful change.
“We are not here to be consulted. We’ve been consulted to death,” said Kike Roach, the Unifor Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University and a speaker at the rally.
“Our voices were loud and clear. Defund the police by 50 per cent — a demand that has been echoing across the continent,” she said. “Stop the tinkering. Stop reforming. Stop the round tables and regressive thinking.”
Previous consultations have resulted in numerous reports, but little change, she said.
The Toronto Police Services Board was initially going to vote on a report about combating racism within the police service without consultations, but decided to postpone hearing that report until the public could weigh in.
Police Chief Mark Saunders has said he does not support arbitrary cuts to the force’s budget, but does support overhauling how the force deals with those in crisis.
Some at Thursday’s protest argued that this current round of public consultations from the police board is little more than lip service, because city council has already voted against a cut to the force’s budget.
Instead, councillors proposed a series of changes to policing including anti-racism measures and the implementation of body cameras.
Roach said body cams are unlikely to prevent brutality, pointing to numerous police killings that were caught on camera, including that of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died while a white police officer pressed a knee against his neck for nearly eight minutes.
Floyd’s death has been a catalyst for worldwide protests demanding an end to police violence and anti-Black racism.
Another speaker, Ravyn Wngz of Black Lives Matter Toronto, rejected arguments used to defend the role of police.
“Police don’t actually help in a crisis. Police don’t help resolve harm once it’s done, and don’t help de-escalate conflict,” Wngz said. “And isn’t it a shame that the people who kill us and the people who purport to protect us are wearing the same uniforms?”
Mary Ann Scott, one of the protesters, said she felt she had little choice but to take to the streets.
“We have a global crisis, a Canadian crisis and a Toronto crisis,” she said. “We have a lot of things that need to be done and we have a lot of community that needs to be helped.”
Scott said she’s been trying to start up a football team in the Regent Park neighbourhood of Toronto, which Statistics Canada says is one of the poorest communities in Canada.
But she said she’s received almost no support for that initiative, while the police service’s budget continues to grow.
“They’re not serving and protecting Black people, and especially not young Black boys,” Scott said. “And when I think about those things, I know I have to come out here and support the people who are standing here with me.”