Just over 20 years ago, the Toronto police union ran an intimidation racket called “Operation True Blue.” The union raised money to investigate and challenge politicians who weren’t friendly to the police and help elect those who were.
The union provided windshield stickers and wallet cards for those who donated money to the union to show they were friends of the police. People worried about reprisals to those who didn’t contribute, and special favours for those who did. Eventually there was enough public outrage — along with moves by the chief of police and the Police Services Board to put an end to the practice — that the campaign was shut down. Yet the chill this kind of intimidation created was real and has never really disappeared.
Most chilling, though, is that it was a clear sign that for police, self-interest was their main interest, not the serving or the protecting of the public.
Fast forward to this past week as the anti-vaccine protests in front of hospitals continued, harassing doctors, nurses, chemo patients, families visiting loved ones and whoever else needed to be at hospitals.
The egregious escalation to protesting hospitals came after a spring and summer of the same protesters targeting vaccination clinics and businesses that enforced COVID-19 restrictions in order to operate safely.
People with appointments at hospitals have been openly worried about what to expect because police treated protesters with kid gloves, escorting them along or ignoring them altogether while they behaved as they did. During this time, the police union came out against vaccine mandates too, another sign of self-interest instead of the public interest.
Public outrage and distress got high enough that last Sunday both the mayor and police said they would take action against anybody blocking ambulances on emergency runs. On Monday, when a planned protest moved from Queen’s Park to Toronto General Hospital, protesters were met by a phalanx of police out front who watched as they yelled and carried on.
At a press conference the same day, Mayor John Tory was asked by the Star’s David Rider how he would respond to people who say the police are very efficient at clearing homeless people and their advocates out of parks, but when it comes to anti-vaxxers in front of a hospital there seems to be a different set of rules. Tory said it was a very unfair comparison. The mayor went on to say he thinks people understand that police have the discretion to enforce the law and draw the line between harassment and peaceful protest.
It’s as if the mayor does not understand that people in this city, and millions elsewhere who’ve seen the videos of police violence, saw the dramatically different approaches. It’s a bold kind of gaslighting by the mayor, but also a misreading of public sentiment.
People are incredibly angry about the non-response to anti-vaxxer harassment, and feel like the police have no accountability. The Police Services Board, the civilian oversight body the mayor and some councillors sit on, has been quiet too.
Questions of whose side the police are on, and who they’re accountable to, have moved into the mainstream.
The anger over the anti-vax rallies and the lack of serving and protecting the wider public comes after a few years of police largely abandoning their duty to enforce traffic laws, another area that’s been barely addressed by the mayor and most councillors. All of this feels like it could coalesce into a larger movement for police reform as more people realize the police may not have the public interest at heart.
If Black Torontonians, other racialized people and those in the LGBTQ communities roll their eyes at this and say, “No guff, this is something we experience every day and have been shouting about from the rooftops for years,” I don’t blame them. But it seems like there’s finally a wider understanding that Toronto — and Canada — are in the midst of a policing crisis thanks to their behaviour this summer, and it could be an opportunity for change and reform momentum.
It won’t be easy though. Tory is an establishment man of the status quo. On the practice of police carding, he only came out against it when a chorus of civil society leaders pleaded with him to. And when he had a chance to appoint Peter Sloly as chief, now the chief of police in Ottawa and a man seen as a reformer (though a mild one at that: he’s no police abolitionist or “defunder”), Tory went with Mark Saunders, another status quo man.
As for the councillors, beyond a few of them signing a letter condemning police violence this summer, there’s been barely a peep on any of this.
To be frank, they’re scared of the police, as are most politicians. They’re the only ones who can do something about this though, but they won’t until their constituents, all of us, compel them to.
Article From: Toronto Star
Author: Shawn Micallef