Mayor John Tory acknowledges Black Lives Matter helped shine spotlight on anti-black racism

Mayor John Tory publicly acknowledged Saturday that recent activism by Black Lives Matter Toronto and other such groups helped catapult at least some of the issues of anti-black racism plaguing the city into the spotlight.

Comments come as city launches first of 'community conversations' to develop action plan on anti-black racism

Mayor John Tory met with members of Toronto's black communities Saturday in the first of a series of so-called "community conversations" to discuss how to tackle the problems of anti-black racism in the city. (John Tory/Twitter)

Mayor John Tory publicly acknowledged Saturday that recent activism by Black Lives Matter Toronto and other similar groups helped shine a spotlight on anti-black racism in the city.

Tory made the remark ahead of meetings organized by 11 different agencies to discuss how to tackle problems of systemic racism in Toronto. Saturday's was the first in a series of community conversations being held throughout January and February to help develop an action set to be presented at city council in July.  

"I think certainly issues have been more clearly placed on the radar screen as a result of some of the activism we've seen," Tory told reporters, while adding that a campaign against anti-Black racism had been in the works regardless, but that the heightened activism in recent years helped spur action on the issues.

"I think, though, that you need to be pushed. It's a lesson that I've learned in the job that I'm in. You have to be pushed by people to not just let the reports sit on the shelf," said Tory.

Mayor John Tory publicly acknowledged Saturday that recent activism by Black Lives Matter Toronto and other similar groups helped shine a spotlight on anti-black racism in the city. (CBC)

The comments come after what was a turbulent year between the mayor and the group, with BLMTO members demanding Tory meet with them publicly to address their demands, including the elimination of carding and an overhaul of the province's Special Investigations Unit.

Tensions reached a boiling point last April when the mayor held a roundtable with members of the city's black communities — to which BLMTO was not invited.

Black Lives Matter Toronto members consulted, city says

To date, the group has not formally met with the mayor. 

But the mayor's spokesperson, Keerthana Kamalavasan, tells CBC News that BLMTO has been asked to host one of the conversations taking place throughout the next several weeks. Saturday's meeting was hosted by the Black Daddies Club as well as Young and Potential Fathers.

So far, the group has not committed to hosting a meeting, but the city did consult with some of its members in conceiving the community conversations, Kamalavasan said.

BLMTO will also be invited to a city-wide public consultation in April.

Topics discussed during the closed-door conversations ran the gamut from policing, the prison system, reintegration and barriers to employment.

Also discussed was carding — the controversial practice of collecting personal information that the province recently moved to regulate, though critics say the move didn't go far enough.

Community members feeling 'cautious optimism'

Anthony Morgan, a community advocate and lawyer, characterized the mood inside inside the room as one of "cautious optimism."

Among the issues he said he spoke to the mayor about were the fate of information collected through carding and the overrepresentation of police contact with black communities.

Anthony Morgan, a Toronto-area community advocate and lawyer, characterized the mood of the conversations as one of "cautious optimism." (Anthony Morgan)

While many have been skeptical at the lack of action to address matters of racism, he said, the fact that the mayor was sitting at the table listening to the concerns and working toward an action plan is promising. 

Tory says part of that lack of action stemmed from people generally being uncomfortable with addressing the racial elements to a wide range of social issues largely affecting black communities. 

"Some of that is directly attributable to anti-black racism," he said, stressing meaningful action is on the way.

"This is not a political exercise."