Community safety minister slammed for saying he wore bulletproof vest at Jane and Finch

Comments made by Ontario's minister of community safety and corrections on Wednesday are being slammed as racist by the opposition parties.

Michael Tibollo's comment draws accusations of racism from opposition parties

Ontario's Minister of Community Safety and Corrections Michael Tibollo drew fire on Wednesday after remarking he wore a bulletproof vest during a visit to Toronto's troubled Jane and Finch neighbourhood. (Ontario Legislative Assembly)

Comments made by Ontario's minister of community safety and corrections on Wednesday are being slammed as racist by the opposition parties.

Michael Tibollo — the rookie MPP for Vaughan–Woodbridge — said during question period he wore a bulletproof vest while on a police ride-along in Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood — a predominantly black area with a history of gang violence. 

He was responding to a question from the NDP's Kevin Yarde about carding and whether Ontario's new Progressive Conservative government plans to re-introduce the controversial practice of arbitrary street checks. 

"I went out to Jane and Finch, put on a bulletproof vest, and spent 7 o'clock to 1 o'clock in the morning visiting sites that had previously had bullet-ridden people killed in the middle of the night," said Tibollo.

"The police need tools to work with. They're doing an incredible job ensuring that our streets are safe."

CBC News reached out to police, who said that bullet proof vests are standard protocol for anyone on a ride-along. 

"When police do a ridealong, there is a safety assessment," said Toronto police in an emailed statement. "That assessment takes into account a variety of factors. Since we always err on the side of caution, there is a presumption that the person doing the ridealong will be provided with a vest."

Tibollo, who is also in charge of Ontario's anti-racism directorate, said he visited the area with Premier Doug Ford to understand its ongoing violence. He tweeted about the experience on July 7. 

Outside the chamber, Tilbollo's comments drew criticism from all three opposition parties.

"Having a minister responsible for both the anti-racism secretariat and the community and correctional services is pretty worrisome, especially after we heard the… blatantly racist comments he made today," said Opposition and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"From what we heard today, [Tibollo] has no credibility whatsoever on this file."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called Tibollo's remark 'blatantly racist.' (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Mitzie Hunter, Liberal MPP for Scarborough–Guildwood, said Tilbollo's remarks were "completely unacceptable" while Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner called on him to "issue an apology to the many people who call the Jane and Finch community home."

Tibollo told reporters the vest was provided by the police. He stood by his remarks and insisted he wasn't singling out a neighbourhood.

"I think the reason that I said that is that we have to understand that there are situations that are difficult, and it's not right for anyone to have to think about their safety in that regard and have to wear a vest or be concerned about going out," Tibollo said. "Anti-racism is an issue that this ministry will take seriously." 

Police respond to a shooting in the Jane-Finch area in May 2016. The neighbourhood as a history of gang violence. (Mark Boschler/CBC)

Personal experience

Yarde, the NDP representative for Brampton North, wants Tilbollo to withdraw his comment. He's now filed a notice of dissatisfaction with the remarks.

"Depending on who you're asking and as an African-Canadian, I thought it was a racist comment," said Yarde, who is black.

"It was a surprise to hear comments such as that coming from the minister of community safety and correctional services."

Yarde said his question about carding drew on personal experience. He said seven years ago, before he was an MPP, he was pulled over in Mississauga and asked for ID, for no apparent reason.

Kevin Yarde, MPP for Brampton North, whose question about carding prompted Tibollo's remark, wants the minister to withdraw his comment.

No more carding, Elliott says

Deputy premier Christine Elliott insisted Tibollo's remark wasn't intended to be racist.

"I don't think he meant in that way. I think he was just expressing his wish to get into communities and understand what residents were going through," said Elliot.

Asked about whether the PC's plan to bring back the practice of carding, Elliot was clear.

"We've talked about giving police the resources that they need in order to deal with gun violence. But bringing back carding is not one of them."

About the Author

Farrah Merali

Reporter

Farrah Merali is a reporter with CBC Toronto with a passion for politics and urban health issues. She previously worked as the early morning reporter at CBC Vancouver. Follow her at @FarrahMerali