Toronto

First Nations park-goers claim Toronto police racism

Some First Nations people in downtown Toronto say they're being unfairly targeted by police and, in one case, have made an official complaint.

Some First Nations people in downtown Toronto say they're being unfairly targeted by police and, in one case, have made an official complaint.

Terra Gardner said she and three friends were in George Hislop Park near Yonge and Charles streets when two police officers confronted them.

"A couple of police officers rolled up on their bikes and told us if they ever see a Native person in this park again, they're going to arrest us," she told CBC News.

Gardner and her friends are homeless. She says they weren't drinking that day or breaking any laws.

"It just feels like racism and it's offensive," she said.

Gardner now says she feels nervous about going back to the park. 

They filed a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director — the office that investigates complaints against police.

Toronto police won't talk specifically about her allegations, though Const. Wendy Drummond said, "We've received numerous complaints in regards to people drinking openly in that area."

There are more people living nearby because of new condo towers and police say they've increased patrols through the park.

Ontario's police reviewer is investigating what happened there. 

John Waites, outreach manager at the Native Men's Residence in Toronto, says he wonders if the incident is part of a larger issue of police targeting natives or the homeless. He says he hears more and more complaints about people being stopped and questioned.

Waites says he was there during one questioning.

"And I said, 'Look, I'm just going to take down some general information here.' They said, 'Do that and we'll question you as well.'"

Waites said he decided to head over to the police station to talk to them. He now gives PowerPoint presentations to police in 13 Division to try to bridge the gap with officers.

With minor cases, he suggests police call his office first so they can diffuse any issues.

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