Toronto

Black Lives Matter right to take on 'toothless' SIU, longtime activist says

A Toronto activist who marched in the protests that led to the creation of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit said he’s “ecstatic” that Black Lives Matter is in the streets demanding a review of the police oversight agency.

Kingsley Gilliam and the Black Action Defence Committee pushed for the SIU in the late 1980s

Kingsley Gilliam, a co-founder of the Black Action Defence Committee, said he supports what Black Lives Matter has been protesting for but said the group may need to change its methods in the coming months. (CBC)

A Toronto activist who marched in the protests that led to the creation of Ontario's Special Investigations Unit said he's "ecstatic" that Black Lives Matter is in the streets demanding a review of the police oversight agency.

The Toronto chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement has staged several high-profile protests after Toronto police officers shot and killed Andrew Loku, a black father of five who defied police orders to drop a hammer.

On Monday, the group met with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne after dozens of demonstrators walked from police headquarters to Queen's Park calling for changes at the civilian agency.

Black Lives Matter protesters marched from Toronto police headquarters to Queen's Park on April 4. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)
The SIU — which investigates interactions between police and the public that result in serious injury or death or allegations of sexual assault — cleared the officers involved in Loku's shooting of any wrongdoing.

Kingsley Gilliam, one of the founding members of the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC), blasted the SIU as a "toothless tiger" in an interview with CBC News and said it's become a "repository" for retired police officers.

"We wanted an independent body," he said.

Gilliam helped form BADC in 1988 after the deaths of several black men, including the police killing of Lester Donaldson, a 44-year-old man with mental health problems who lived in a rooming house. The officer in Donaldson's shooting was cleared, but two years later the province formed the SIU.

Gilliam is hopeful Black Lives Matter's protests will create change at the SIU, but said the young, energetic and impatient group may need to change its approach in the coming months as it begins to work with politicians. 

Toronto city council already passed a motion expressing its support for a review of the SIU and Wynne vowed to the protesters that she's willing to work with them on reforms.

But as the premier noted in a back-and-forth with Black Lives Matter leaders on Monday, the group hasn't agreed to a formal meeting yet.

"You must accept invitations to meet. What you do, what we do when we meet with government, we bring community leaders that are seasoned with us to the table and we work," Gilliam said.

When asked what advice he would give Black Lives Matter, Gilliam noted the group already has substantial community support and is excelling at using new tools — like social media — that weren't around during BADC's heyday.

"Keep doing what you're doing, but strategize to get your end game," he said. 

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