City investigating interaction between bylaw officer, Black women at Centennial Park

The City of Toronto will bring in an independent investigator to examine an incident that led to a heated interaction between two Black women and a by-law officer in Centennial Park on Tuesday morning.

Part of the incident was captured on video and posted to Instagram and Twitter

A screengab taken from video of the interaction posted to Instagram. (@fitforevaa/Instagram)

The City of Toronto will bring in an independent investigator to examine an incident that led to a heated interaction between two Black women and a bylaw officer in Centennial Park on Tuesday morning.

The initial interaction wasn't captured on camera, but Deborah Ampong and her friend Eva Amo-Mensah recorded the resulting argument with the officer and posted it to Instagram and Twitter, where it has been viewed thousands of times.

In an interview with CBC Toronto, the women said they were stopped by the officer after leaving a field where they had been doing an outdoor workout, alongside other people using park amenities.

They say the officer stopped them after they hopped over a fence as people were clearing out of the field. They say he did not attempt to stop any non-racialized people who were in the park.

"And he goes, 'Did you know that you two are trespassing, and that if this were my home I'd be licensed to shoot you both?'" said Ampong. 

"That was very traumatizing, we were very threatened."

The alleged comment is not on video and the bylaw officer, in the course of the interaction, denies he said it.

On the recording, the women also allege the by-law officer asked them for identification when they tried to get to the fields at Centennial Stadium, but didn't do the same for two young soccer players standing nearby. One of the women asks the soccer players if they were ID'd, and they say no.

Visibly upset, one of the women says she feels they were singled because they are Black.

Eva Amo-Mensah shared the video on her Instagram page. 'Enough is enough, we can’t be dealing with this still. This is 2020,' she said. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Amo-Mensah said the officer's alleged mention of a weapon made the incident impossible to ignore.

"That's when I decided, 'Alright, we're going to record you at this moment so that people know that this is actually what's going on,'" Amo-Mensah said.

Ampong said growing discussions around anti-Black racism and police brutality made the officer's comments particularly troubling.

"That already tells me there's a racial attachment to that, especially with what's going on in the world right now and in the U.S., seeing people like me getting shot by people in authority," Ampong said.

The women further allege that the by-law officer attempted to take a picture of their licence plate. 

In a statement posted to Twitter Tuesday night, Mayor John Tory said an investigation led by the Municipal Licensing and Standards division was underway. 

Later on Wednesday, the city announced it would bring on a neutral third-party investigator to examine the incident. City spokesperson Brad Ross said Toronto's human rights office would appoint the investigator, who has not yet been identified.

"No bylaw officer should ever threaten or even suggest violence. The allegations made are extremely disturbing and warrant a full and complete investigation by city staff," Tory said in his original tweet.

"While we await the results of this investigation, I want to be clear that as mayor I will not tolerate any [City of Toronto] employees engaging in behaviour that threatens residents or demonstrates anti-Black racism."