Toronto

'Defund the police,' painted outside Toronto police headquarters during peaceful protest

Peaceful protesters have taken over a section of College Street downtown and painted the words: "Defund the police" in bold pink lettering outside Toronto police headquarters.

The group Not Another Black Life is staging the protest

Gary Wassaykeesic holds a Mohawk flag and asks people to take a seat as they take part in an 'Abolish the police' sit-in in Toronto to mark Juneteenth amid nationwide protests against racial inequality. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Peaceful protesters took over a section of College Street downtown, painting the words: "Defund the police" in bold pink lettering outside Toronto police headquarters Friday.

On Twitter, Toronto police confirmed they were aware of the protest and said College Street would be closed from Yonge Street to Bay Street for most of the day. "Everyone has the lawful right to peacefully protest," police said.

Calls to defund police forces across North America have grown louder since the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Floyd's killing set off weeks of protests across the world against police brutality and anti-Black racism.

In Toronto, demonstrators have called for reform and increased transparency after the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her High Park apartment after police were called to her home in May.

The police board has recognized that tension, but has delayed a vote on some early potential changes so it can consult more with the community.

"It's time to dismantle the police," said Syrus Marcus Ware of Black Lives Matter Toronto.

"The Toronto Police Services Budget is over $1.1 billion, which is more funding than is allotted for library, housing and shelters combined. We believe that Black communities and all communities deserve better!"

Ware called for a redirection of at least 50 per cent of the police budget "towards the communities that they have devastated."

The demands include, in part, eliminating all police presence at schools and campuses, ending police collaboration with transit agencies, ending community policing patrol in racialized neighbourhoods and an end to carding. 

Calls to change how we respond to people in crisis

Also Friday, a Toronto police board member called for improvements to how the system responds to people in crisis.

Uppala Chandrasekera, who's also co-chair of the board's mental-health advisory committee, said people need community-based options that include social workers, peer workers, and mental health and addictions workers. 
'Defund the police' was painted in bold pink lettering outside Toronto police headquarters on Friday morning by peaceful protesters, who have taken over a section of College Street downtown. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

"Our system is broken when our only option is to send the police into a mental health crisis situation," Chandrasekera said at the Toronto Police Services Board meeting that was streamed online.

"Would we send a police officer to respond to a heart attack or an asthma attack? It's a disservice to our community and it's a disservice to the police when the police officer becomes the only option to call during a mental health crisis."

Chandrasekera said that help is particularly needed for the city's racialized communities.

"We need to build mental health support for and with our racialized communities, especially our Black and Indigenous communities," she said.

Toronto's police board was set to discuss Friday how officers respond to those in crisis, as well as anti-Black and
anti-Indigenous racism. But that was delayed until early July. That's when the board will hold a special town hall to discuss the issues with the public.

Police accountability and reform will also be on the agenda at that meeting. 
Calls to defund police forces across North America have grown louder since a white police officer killed George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis. That officer now faces a charge of second-degree murder in connection with Floyd's death. (Rozenn Nicole/CBC)

Mayor John Tory, who also sits on the police board, said at Friday's meeting that he agreed with Chandrasekera on responding to those in crisis.

"It cannot be taken that we have anything even close to the right sort of means of dealing with this," Tory said.

"And we put a lot on to the police in terms of dealing with these mental health crises."

Friday's protest was organized by the group Not Another Black Life. At least two other anti-racism protests were scheduled to take place in the city Friday.

The events coincide with Juneteenth, the U.S. holiday that marks the end of slavery. You can read more about the importance of the day, here.

In Toronto, demonstrators have called for reform and increased transparency after the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her High Park apartment balcony after police were called to her home in May. (Rozenn Nicolle/CBC)

With files from The Canadian Press

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