Toronto

Black Lives Matter renews calls for defunding of police after charges laid in defacing of statues

Black Lives Matter - Toronto renewed its calls for the defunding of police after three protesters were arrested, detained and charged in the defacing of statues in downtown Toronto on the weekend.

'Monuments of violence' need to go, anti-Black racism group says

Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter - Toronto, in black t-shirt, second from left, speaks to reporters at Ryerson University after three members of the anti-Black racism group were charged in the defacing of the statues in Toronto. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Black Lives Matter - Toronto renewed its calls for the defunding of police after three protesters were arrested, detained and charged in the defacing of statues in downtown Toronto on the weekend.

Pink paint was thrown on the statues of former prime minister John A. Macdonald, King Edward VII and Egerton Ryerson on Saturday.

The anti-Black racism group claimed credit for the defacing at the Ontario legislature and at Ryerson University and called it an artistic disruption and a "necessary intervention."

Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter - Toronto, told reporters at an emotional news conference in front of the defaced Egerton Ryerson statue on Sunday that the action has strengthened the resolve of the group to continue to call for a 50 per cent cut to the Toronto police budget.

The group is calling on the city and province to defund the police, invest in communities and create emergency safety services that "do not harm" Black and Indigenous people.

"We believe that these monuments of violence, from this statue to the police station, all of them need to be taken down. All of them need to be toppled. All of them need to be dismantled," Diverlus said.

"This has only proven to us as a community that the police need to go and that we need new systems of safety. They do not keep us safe," he added.

Diverlus noted that the police marshalled the resources of three divisions, 52, 55 and 14, to control the group but said there is less action when it comes to protecting the lives of Black people in Toronto.

He said there were mounted police units, police cruisers, undercover police and patrol officers involved in the response as well as Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders.

Paint was thrown on the statues of former prime minister John A. Macdonald, King Edward VII and Egerton Ryerson on Saturday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"All the pomp and circumstance that you saw yesterday from all the police, all the theatrics, was about pink paint. This was it," he said.

"We have seen less action when we die," he added. "We have seen inaction when it comes to the lives of Black, Indigenous and other lives lost to police violence. As a public, we demand answers. As a public, we demand accountability."

All 3 charged with mischief due in court in September

Two women, Jenna Reid and Danielle Smith, aged 35 and 47 respectively, and one man, Daniel Gooch, 35, all of Toronto, have all been charged with three counts of mischief under $5,000 and conspiracy to commit a summary offence, according to Toronto police.

The three were released early Sunday and are due to appear in court at Old City Hall in Toronto on Sept. 30, according to lawyer Saron Gebresellassi.

Diverlus said the three people charged were held for 17 hours.

"We are calling for the defunding of the police. We are calling for the demilitarization of the police. We are calling for the disarming of the police. And we are demanding the dismantling of the police," he said.

Saron Gebresellassi, lawyer for the accused, in the middle, called on the legal community for help in fighting the charges faced by the three protesters. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Gebresellassi, for her part, called on the legal community for help in fighting the charges faced by the three protesters. She said "hard labour" is needed on the part of legal professionals as the court process begins.

She said she was able to speak to her client only twice over the course of 12 hours, once at 3:15 p.m. and again closer to midnight, and she said denying the accused the right to counsel immediately and without delay is a violation of Charter rights.

Gebresellassi also noted that the police provided misinformation to the media on Saturday, saying that two of the three protesters were released on Saturday evening when in fact they were not until early Sunday. The police said in a tweet later that three had to sign release forms before leaving custody.

Police want to protect 'old, dead statues,' protester says

Syrus Marcus Ware, a member of Black Lives Matter - Toronto, said the police were more interested in protecting the statues than they were in the welfare of the three people arrested. Ware called the painting an "art-based peaceful protest."

"These are the statues and the symbols of racism, of slavery, of anti-Blackness, of colonialism ... that they were protecting more than they were protecting us. When they say they protect and serve, they were protecting old, dead statues more than they were protecting the human bodies of the people who they arrested yesterday," Ware said.

The equestrian statue of King Edward VII Equestrian statue at Queen's Park was hit with pink paint at Queen's Park. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ravyn Wngz, another member of Black Lives Matter - Toronto, told reporters that anti-Black statements of solidarity are not enough.

"It is important that you recognize that we are here because we are dying. Black people are dying everywhere. Indigenous people are dying everywhere. And it is shameful, egregious, disgusting, frustrating, exhausting to be here, fighting for our humanity, again," Wngz said.

"The monuments to racism are being taken down all over the world. And change is no longer coming. It is here."

Mayor acknowledges change is needed in policing

In a statement on Sunday, Mayor John Tory said he supports the right of residents to engage in peaceful protest and is publicly committed to "leading the process of change and reform in policing" and the eradication of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. An update on a city report about statues and street names is expected soon.

"The mayor has already committed to having an open dialogue with residents about statues and street names within the city and is working to ensure that there is robust consultation with the public on a path forward," the statement reads.

"That is why the mayor requested the city manager to develop a report on how the city can address the recent calls for changes to street names and statues."

The defaced statue of Egerton Ryerson, a public education advocate and a prominent figure in education and politics in Ontario in the 19th century, is shown here. Ryerson has been criticized for his involvement in the development of residential schools. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

As for calls to defund the police, Tory said he is open to many of the ideas that have been put forward about police reform and he has called for "significant change" on how taxpayer dollars are allocated for policing. He said, however, that change requires a "thorough and measured approach" and an examination of responsibilities.

"The challenge now becomes one of determining which specific reforms to implement from among many models and how to implement them in a sensible manner," the statement reads.

"The mayor knows that collectively we need to work to address police accountability, reform, community safety and alternate ways to deliver services to people, including some of the most marginalized communities."

Action ended in protest at police division that lasted hours

On Saturday morning, the protesters went from Ryerson University, where paint was thrown on the statue of Egerton Ryerson, to the Ontario legislature, where more paint was thrown on the statue of John A. Macdonald and the equestrian statue of King Edward VII.

From there, protesters went to 52 police division where they demonstrated for hours and demanded that those arrested be released.

Police alleged a man and two women were seen vandalizing a statue at Ryerson University before going to one at Queen's Park. They said a woman got out of a van, carrying tubs of paint, and officers found a man and a woman in the van, covered in paint. Police arrested the three. They said police seized tubs of paint, spray paint, sidewalk chalk, stencils and rope from the van. 

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders says: 'The Toronto Police Service is committed to being as transparent and accountable as possible, but the reality is that there is a lot of misinformation being put out there on this matter with the intent to create division, instead of uniting people.' (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

'All rights were respected,' Toronto police say

In a statement on Sunday afternoon, Toronto police said: "The three arrests were made in accordance with the law and all rights were respected. There was nothing unique about these arrests or the process which followed."

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the three were informed they were eligible for release, two initially indicated they would choose that option, but later that afternoon, all three refused to sign the release conditions. Each spoke with lawyers between 3:30 and 3:59 pm on Saturday, he said.

"Some have chosen to perpetuate a false narrative about the access to counsel and the custody of these three individuals. As is the case in all similar arrests, each of these individuals was provided the opportunity to sign a release, agreeing to appear in court. Each had access to counsel in the mid afternoon," Saunders said.

"Despite two indicating they would seek release, they later refused and instead chose to remain in custody for many hours longer than was required and into the evening and early morning hours. It is important in these critical moments that the truth be told by all sides," Saunders added.

"We record these processes, and the moment that counsel was selected, access was provided. It is unfortunate that a narrative has been manufactured that does not further the very real issues we are facing with anti-Black systemic racism, and the dialogue around the police and the community."

Saunders said all three agreed to be released early Sunday. The women were released from 55 Division at 1:09 am and 1:47 a.m. and the man was released from 14 Division at 2:29 a.m.

"The Toronto Police Service is committed to being as transparent and accountable as possible, but the reality is that there is a lot of misinformation being put out there on this matter with the intent to create division, instead of uniting people," Saunders said.

With files from Kelda Yuen, the Canadian Press

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