ACTRA Toronto strongly condemns racism, police violence and all forms of discrimination.
In solidarity with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, we support the call for the Toronto Police Services Board, Toronto Police Service, City of Toronto and the Government of Ontario to take bold action to address systemic and anti-Black racism in policing and to respect and protect Black lives. This should include:
- The reimagining of policing through new funding models, policies, procedures and regulations to acknowledge and address the lived experiences of Black people;
- The formal establishment of a process with Black communities and organizations and the Ontario Human Rights Commission, to adopt legally binding remedies that will result in fundamental shifts in the practices and culture of policing, to address and eliminate systemic racism and anti-Black racial bias in policing; and
- The establishment by the Government of Ontario of a legislative and regulatory framework to directly address systemic racism and anti-Black racial bias in policing through Provincial law requiring all police services in Ontario to, among other things, collect and analyze race-based data across the full spectrum of policing activities, and provide for transparent and effective accountability processes to ensure that officers who engage in racial profiling or discrimination are effectively disciplined.
In addition, we stand in solidarity with the Ontario Federation of Labour in demanding that municipal and provincial governments reflect the needs of their most historically marginalized groups by immediately reinvesting funds from policing to alternatives such as community-based health and social services, mental health supports and crisis intervention, addiction treatment and harm reduction programs and services to prevent and address gender-based violence.
Further, recognizing that the presence of police on film and television sets can be triggering for cast and crew, we acknowledge and appreciate the work that our film and television partners do to consciously seek out alternatives to hiring Paid Duty Officers whenever it is safe to do so, for example by submitting city permits with permission requests to use Book 7 compliant Traffic Services as an alternative to Paid Duty Officers.
The ACTRA Toronto Council
The Black Lives Matter campaign began on social media in 2013, as an international human rights campaign following the death in Florida of Trayvon Martin – a Black teenager who was shot while walking to a family friend’s house by George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of charges.
In 2014, Eric Garner died after police officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold while arresting him in New York. Later that year, Michael Brown was killed by a gunshot from police officer Darren Wilson in St. Louis. In the years that followed, several more deaths of Black folks at the hands of police took place, pushing the #BlackLivesMatter movement to demand justice for “Black lives who are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise”.
As Canadians, it is important to remember that we are not exempt from racism, and that excessive and lethal force in policing also exists here.
In December of 2016, a 19-year-old Black male named Dafonte Miller, was beaten so badly by an off-duty police officer, that he lost an eye. Dafonte along with two friends were walking down a residential street in Whitby, when they encountered off-duty Toronto Police Constable Michael Theriault and his brother, Christian Theriault. The brothers asked the group if they lived in the neighbourhood and what they were doing there. When the group asked why they were being questioned and turned their backs to walk away, the two brothers chased after them, putting Dafonte in a headlock and pulling him to the ground before repeatedly striking him with a metal pipe, causing a rupture in his eye. In 2017 Theriault was found guilty of assault, and sentenced to 9 months in prison, along with 12 months of probation afterwards.
In 2020, a rally cry and movement to end police brutality consisting of excessive and unwarranted use of force was pushed to the forefront, when George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, with officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao standing by. This was followed by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot while jogging in Georgia after being pursued by three armed, white residents who chased him in a pickup truck; and, Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker who was shot and killed by Louisville police during a botched raid on a neighbouring apartment.
With the entire world paused due to the impact of COVID-19, this rallying cry was finally heard louder than ever – resulting in one of the largest civil rights movements in modern day history.
According to research conducted by CBC, there were 30 people killed in Canada after police used force in the first half of 2020, which is the full year average for such deaths over the past 10 years.
Their research showed that Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately represented amongst victims compared to their share of the overall population, and that 68% of those killed in police encounters suffer from mental illness or substance abuse.
In May of 2020, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Indigenous-Ukrainian-Black woman fell to her death from her 24th floor apartment balcony while Toronto Police were in her home. Regis suffered from seizures that caused erratic behaviour, and her mother had called the police to request to have her taken to CAMH during a domestic conflict, in an effort to de-escalate the situation. The police who attended the call were unsure as to whether or not epilepsy was a justifiable reason for taking her into custody under the Mental Health Act, and as such, opted not to call the Toronto police’s Mobile Intervention Team.
In August of 2020, The Ontario Human Rights Commission released their second interim report on the inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black persons by the Toronto Police Services, which confirmed that Black people are more likely to be arrested, charged, over-charged, struck, shot, or killed by the Toronto Police Service, and that “they are subjected to a disproportionate burden of law enforcement in a way that is consistent with systemic racism and anti-Black racial bias”.
In July of 2020, CAMH’s President and CEO, Dr. Catherine Zahn called on the Toronto Police Services board to take a new direction in crisis care, by encouraging “strategic investments in community mental health to ensure a strong, sustainably funded mental health system that would guarantee access to care and supports for people with mental illness across the entire trajectory of their illness, including early intervention and crisis prevention.”
Upon being hired by the Toronto Police service, every new recruit completes 3 weeks of orientation at the Toronto Police College, 12 weeks at the Ontario Police College, and 9 weeks of further training at the Toronto Police College to learn defensive tactics, driving, firearms, neighbourhood policing, and investigative training.
Though it is unclear as to how much (if any) unconscious bias, anti-oppression, mental health and crisis intervention training takes place during that 24 weeks, two things that are clear is that the police have a documented record of racial bias, and that they are not health care experts.
The time has come to reimagine police services, and how to best serve and protect the most historically marginalized members of our community. “Defunding the Police” means divesting from police in schools, the criminalizing of mental health, and using military grade weapons against citizens, and instead investing in community resources such as teachers and counselors, mental health and restorative services, and community-led harm reduction.
ACTRA Toronto members who would like to learn more and get involved are invited to go to https://defundthepolice.org/