More than 1,000 protesters rally downtown to call for defunding and abolition of police, SIU

More than 1,000 protesters rallied in Nathan Phillips Square on Sunday afternoon to call for the defunding and abolition of all police forces in Canada and Ontario's Special Investigations Unit.

Organizers support Black Lives Matter demand for 50% cut in Toronto police budget

More than 1,000 people gathered outside city hall in Toronto on Sunday afternoon to call for the abolition of police forces across Canada. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

More than 1,000 protesters rallied in Nathan Phillips Square on Sunday afternoon to call for the defunding and abolition of all police forces in Canada and Ontario's Special Investigations Unit.

The No Pride in Policing Coalition, comprised of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC), queer and transgender groups, organized the event. It was called "Abolish Police in Canada: A Pride Rally and Teach-in."

Beverly Bain, an organizer and coalition spokesperson, said the event was an attempt to take Pride back to its political roots and to call for the abolition of police services across the country. She said defunding is the first step.

Bain said the killings of Black, Indigenous and brown people while in police custody, or in the midst of police wellness checks, are a pressing issue for two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities in Toronto.

"In the context of the pandemic, we are seeing the killings, the ongoing police killings, in plain sight, of Blacks, of Indigenous people, including Black women and Indigenous women, by the police, particularly in the context where they are actually doing mental health checks," Bain said. 

Bain said the coalition supports the demand by Black Lives Matter Toronto for a 50 per cent cut in the Toronto Police Service budget and a redistribution of the funds to community agencies to find ways to ensure community safety.

The coalition also wants to see the abolition of the RCMP because it says officers have committed violence against Indigenous peoples, as well as changes to the Criminal Code because it says the legislation gives powers to police to use lethal force against Canadians.

A protester hold a rainbow sign high in the air at the event, which was called 'Abolish Police in Canada: A Pride Rally and Teach-in.' (Kelda Yuen/CBC)

Gary Kinsman, another coalition spokesperson, said the organization wants the SIU to be abolished because it believes it fails in its role as a police oversight body.

The SIU, an arm's length agency, investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.

"It is a completely ineffective, pro-police body. It should be abolished. No money should be spent on it," Kinsman said.

The organizers said a motion by Coun. John Matlow and Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, which calls for a 10 per cent cut to the Toronto Police Service budget, does not go far enough.

"It means nothing to us. We want to see the police and policing abolished," Bain said.

Mayor's proposal for 'detasking' police called insufficient

Organizers said a proposal by Toronto Mayor John Tory for a "detasking" of the police, in which the city would create a new non-police response team for calls that do not involve weapons or violence, is also not sufficient. Tory said the proposal would help "to stamp out systemic racism within our police service."

Protesters hold signs at a rally in Nathan Phillips Square on Sunday to show their opposition to police violence in Canada. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Bain said the idea is a temporary remedy. Tory's recommendations do not call for a defunding of the service.

"The fundamental problem that we have is the way in which policing operates," Bain said.

"Right now, Black, Indigenous, racialized people, queers and trans, and Black, queer and trans people in particular, are not safe. We have not been safe. We have tried commissions. We have tried all kinds of reforms. Our money has been thrown at us. None of that has resolved the situation," she said.

Desmond Cole, an author and activist, spoke to the large crowd at the rally, asking: "If we didn't spend a billion plus on the Toronto Police Service, what could we do with the money?"

Pointing to city hall, Cole added: "We are here to say there are alternatives to the violent colonial white settler policing structure that exists and we have to put those alternatives forward so that the people inside that building can't say they didn't know or weren't told."

In a statement, the coalition said it calls upon Toronto city council, Toronto Police Services Board, the Ontario government, Ontario Provincial Police, Canada Border Services Agency, RCMP and the federal government "to immediately take legislative and operational steps and emergency budgetary decisions towards defunding all Canadian Police Services."

The statement continues: "This call is in support of widespread community calls by Black, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQ, racialized, homeless communities, people with disabilities, activists and scholars for real defunding, disarming, demilitarization, and dismantling of Police Services. The call extends to police services at all levels of government and their police agencies."

The rally and teach-in come in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody, a death that touched off street protests around the world.

And it comes in the wake of the deaths of Toronto woman Regis Korchinski-Paquet, 29, who fell from her balcony after Toronto police responded to a call at her home on May 27, and Mississauga man Ejaz Choudry, 62, who was fatally shot by Peel police while he was experiencing a mental health crisis on June 20. The SIU is investigating both deaths.

As well, it follows the conviction on Friday of Toronto police officer Michael Theriault in the beating of Dafonte Miller on Dec. 28, 2016. 

Theriault was convicted of assault but found not guilty of aggravated assault or obstruction of justice in the incident, which left Miller blinded in one eye. The officer's brother, Christian Theriault, was acquitted of aggravated assault and obstruction of justice.

At the rally, many protesters were masked to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Desmond Cole, an author and activist, spoke at the rally, asking the large crowd: 'If we didn't spend a billion plus on the Toronto Police Service, what could we do with the money?' (Kelda Yuen/CBC)


With files from Kelda Yuen, Muriel Draaisma