Toronto councillors scold TTC over incident involving Black teen
|Toronto Star 18 Jul 2019 at 00:52|
City councillors on Wednesday excoriated the TTC for its handling of an incident last year in which fare inspectors forcibly detained a Black teen on a streetcar platform, with one council member arguing the incident was justification for abolishing transit officers.
After hearing a presentation from city ombudsman Susan Opler about into the confrontation, a half-dozen councillors delivered scathing speeches criticizing the transit agency’s enforcement unit.
“We live in a city where we talk about diversity and we use that; we proclaim how proudly we are of that fact. Yet in this city, young Black kids — and not just young Black kids, there are other kids as well — are being impacted by those we put in authority,” said Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 21, Scarborough Centre), council’s only Black member.
He said that young Black people have told him they regularly face discrimination on Toronto’s transit system.
“I think we have to change that,” he said.
“We cannot tolerate a system, we cannot tolerate a city in which some people are treated differently just because of the colour of their skin.”
The original TTC investigation conducted last year found there was “insufficient evidence” to conclude the inspectors engaged in misconduct in the Feb. 18, 2018 incident, with one minor exception. But the ombudsman’s report determined there were major shortcomings with the TTC’s probe, including transit agency investigators failing to examine evidence that could have supported a finding of racial bias on the part of the inspectors.
The rider whom officers pinned to the ground, Reece Maxwell-Crawford, is suing the TTC , alleging racial profiling. He was 19 at the time of the incident, footage of which was shot by a bystander and widely circulated online.
In a heated speech in the chamber, Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park) said that for more than a decade he had raised concerns with the TTC about potential misuse of force by its officers, but the agency had repeatedly offered assurances they would receive proper training and be subject to effective oversight.
He recalled that despite those assurances, the ombudsman’s office had to investigate . The resulting report, issued in 2017, also raised concerns about the TTC’s oversight of its officers. Perks argued little had changed at the TTC in the past four years.
“I am not satisfied with just giving them another report from the ombudsman and having another assurance that they will fix the oversight, that they will train the staff better and that it will never happen again. I don’t believe it.
“Every Torontonian should be able to travel in dignity and you have shown us you can’t provide that service,” he concluded, charging that there is “inherent racism” in how the TTC’s transit enforcement unit is operated.
Perks tried to introduce a motion to inform the TTC board that as of 2020 council would no longer fund transit enforcement officers. Speaker Frances Nunziata ruled the motion out of order, but Perks vowed to reintroduce it in the future.
Not all councillors agreed with the criticism of TTC officers.
Councillor Stephen Holyday (Ward 2, Etobicoke Centre) rose to commend members of the unit for assisting him in the past.
“On a number of times I have approached officers because I have actually been afraid for my life on the subway … They are there for Torontonians if we need them,” he said.
The TTC has accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations and pledged to take additional action, including setting up an anti-racism task force and ensuring all of its employees receive enhanced anti-bias training.
“We know we can do better and we will do better,” TTC CEO Rick Leary told council.
Councillors unanimously approved a motion from Thompson to direct the TTC to work with the city’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit and report back on progress early next year.