Belleville residents call for firing of veteran police officer over Confederate flag controversy
Const. Todd Bennett called U.S. Civil War rebel symbol 'the real Independence Day flag'
- Const. Todd Bennett has apologized for the social media post, calling it "poor judgement."
The Belleville Police Service is facing pressure to fire a veteran officer shown in social media posts wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt and expressing support for the Confederacy, a group of Southern U.S. states that fought against the other states in the U.S. Civil War.
Const. Todd Bennett, who has been a police officer for over 20 years, posted a photo to his Facebook page last year showing him at a U.S. Independence Day celebration on July 4 wearing a white T-shirt with the rebel flag on it. In a comment accompanying the post, Bennet called it "the real Independence Day flag" and said "The South will rise again! Trump 2020."
Another photo from 2015 shows Bennett riding in a golf cart with a large Confederate flag attached to the back of the vehicle.
The flag, flown during the American Civil War by the Confederates, who fought in part to preserve the institution of slavery, is widely seen today as a symbol of racism and white supremacy.
An online petition calling for Bennett to be fired had garnered 9,000 signatures as of Friday morning.
"You can't hold such strong views about what the Confederate flag stands for and hold a job that is meant to support, protect and serve the community," Belleville, Ont., resident Sydney Jarvis said in an interview with CBC Radio's Ontario Morning.
Jarvis, a person of colour, is organizing an event called Vigil for Black Lives in Belleville on Sunday, in solidarity with those who have been affected by racism and police brutality.
Jarvis said while she sees Bennett's behaviour as an isolated incident and believes that people can change, she thinks the officer deserves to be reprimanded.
2/2 post, as he did not intend to offend anyone. The Belleville Police Service understands the high standards that the community places on our officers and we will continue to strive to meet and exceed those expectations.—@BLVLPolice
Bennett has since taken the post down and apologized, the Belleville Police Service said in a tweet on Wednesday.
The officer said the image was meant as a joke.
"It was absolutely not meant to be any kind of political or racist statement," Bennett wrote in an emailed statement.
"The matter was raised with my employer a year ago and addressed. Now more than ever, I am aware of why such symbols and comments are hurtful, inappropriate and offensive. I had committed to my force over a year ago to do better and have adhered to that."
The officer said posting the image was "poor judgement" and apologized to anyone hurt by his actions. He also apologized if his Facebook post sowed doubt about whether Belleville residents can trust local police.
"I stand in solidarity with those from all walks of life who are working to drive change and progress. We all have a role to play in eradicating racism and building safe, equitable and healthy communities," he wrote.
'Isolated post': police chief
Belleville police Chief Ron Gignac issued a statement saying that Bennett's actions shouldn't tarnish the good work Belleville police officers do.
"One isolated post from 47 weeks ago does not represent the hundreds of thousands of events and instances where Belleville police officers have kept this community safe over the past year," Gignac said. "We work tirelessly to serve with distinction to keep this community safe."
Gignac said he can't comment on the specifics of Bennett's case, and said "the matter in question is dealt with according to the legal frameworks that I have to abide within and by."
Belleville Mayor Mitch Panciuk, who is also a member of the city's police board, told Ontario Morning that the board will review the action taken by the police chief.
"It's a very disappointing situation for all of us," Panciuk said. "We're going to continue to work to make sure everyone not just is welcome but is able to live a life of equality."
Who did he apologize to? I haven't received an apology. I live in belleville as a black man and a military veteran. In this town that I have to see Confederate flags on everyone's truck as they blow past me and give dirty stares as if I shouldn't, be In this town.—@DDenzel38
Belleville residents took to Twitter to express their frustration, with many saying Gignac's statement did not go far enough.
In a post accompanying the online petition, Lorraine Postma said this is not an isolated incident.
"This is not enough ... This is not just one bad apple," Postma wrote. "The community of Belleville is calling for a thorough and independent investigation of this police officer's behaviour."
For Jarvis, the episode is a painful example of the inequalities people of colour face every day.
"It just reminds me that it's still a struggle for people of colour to live normal lives," she said. "It's a reminder that there are people out there that still think our lives aren't as relevant or important as theirs."
- A previous version of this story stated Const. Bennett was a police officer for 29 years. According to Bennett, however, he has worked as a police officer for a little over 20 years.Jun 06, 2020 12:03 PM ET
With files from CBC's Laura Howells and Ontario Morning