A Shameful Showcase of Toronto State Violence

Report by Corey David, September 15, 2021

It’s impossible to maintain the capitalist system of exploitation without force. Police violence has escalated across the country, as cop funding is increased. Public pressure has pushed the state to slow down evictions, but they have continued throughout the pandemic by order of the city and province through the Landlord and Tenant Board, and enforced by Toronto Police Services. Tenants’ groups like Acorn, People’s Defense and Parkdale Organize demonstrate that collective action protects vulnerable people from repression. They continue to support and organize communities via food banks, child care and events, while the City of Toronto works to shut them down and enforce the for-profit system.

You can’t go very far without seeing people living rough. The city has supported the hotel industry by allocating rooms to some who are in the overcrowded shelter system, an example of decades of austerity and neo-liberal policies that have produced the crisis. While I support moves that improve the safety of marginalized people and that support basic needs, some unhoused people, paramedics and front-line support staff, say that hotels are more dangerous than living in tents. Yet the city targets encampments on public land and when community organizations and individuals support them and call for quality housing, they are criminalized.

As housing costs rise with little to no increase in wages, alongside reduced or frozen social services, more people are being forced onto the street. The shelter system is a band aid solution, stretched to the point of collapse. In winters prior to 2018 all levels of government refused to open an empty downtown armoury to accommodate those who could not find space in a shelter, a decision that led to people freezing to death and only ended temporarily with intervention by the Feds. The city’s response under Mayor John Tory was to acquire 400 more shelter beds, ignoring the root of the crisis.

Hundreds of police, city staff as well as security contractors have been used to forcibly kettle and violently remove people from parks. There is no meaningful dialogue with the city and only organized and community support at Trinity-Bellwoods Park brokered a deal guaranteeing some of the residents a place to stay while others dispersed to find a new place to sleep. After Alexandria Park was cleared a film production took over the park, while John Tory stumbled over his faux rationale.

All Councillors supported the use of force, but a few walked back their vote after the second clearing of the Lamport Stadium encampment, July 21. Some contract security walked off the job after talking to encampment supporters.  Some city staff have refused work, but for the most part these attacks have been challenged only by community members and political activists led by the Encampment Support Network.

I’ve been outraged by the violence unleashed on protesters and defenders across the Canadian state.  When it began with such magnitude where I live, I couldn’t stand by. I didn’t get to Trinity-Bellwoods until it was over. I watched the phalanx of riot police march out of the park.  Regular cops and security guarded the wall constructed to contain the campers and separate them from the rest of the community, a key part of the city’s strategy. 

On July 21, while at work, I heard that the park alongside Lamport Stadium was being cleared, saw images of police on horseback in riot gear, with shields, pepper spray, batons, fences, who bloodied supporters and residents. They removed everyone and everything by threat or by force, issued trespassing tickets, arrested and charged many people. When I got off work, I biked to 14 Division where some of the arrested were being held. 

I arrived after 4 p.m., joining about a hundred protesters, which grew to about 200, around 5 p.m.  The organizers explained the situation and reiterated our demands. We were calling for those being held to be released, and for them to be able to speak to the lawyers who had volunteered. There were chants, drums and a speaker system. I was near the front, at the south side of the police line. More police joined as the protest got louder.  The police put on their gloves, helmets, glasses and stepped back from their bikes. 

A bike was knocked over.  A moment later the Police moved forward. A few minutes later a cop struck someone, then used pepper spray, which attracted tossed water bottles. People backed up, but one person stood in front of the bikes covering their face. As they turned away, a cop made his way through the line and shoved them to the ground.  As they fell, I moved towards the person on the ground. A different officer stepped forward from the line. I moved adjacent to him, within arms length of the person on the ground. That same cop that pushed the protester stepped forward and struck me in the face, pulled my mask off and pushed my head down. I was thrown on top of the bikes that the police had now knocked over. No one told me I was under arrest. The cop who punched me said “Let’s go”.

I tried to stand up but was pulled back down. I was hit repeatedly in the back while officers held my legs, and hit once in the head, at which point I collapsed. An officer cuffed my left hand and yelled for my other arm. I was lifted once and put back down, then set on my feet and I walked up the stairs. A detective and officer pushed me forcefully into the wall whenever we came to a door. They frisked me and sat me down asking for my information.  The detective told me not to look at him and look at the floor. I asked the other person collecting my belongings whether this is legal and got no reply. The detective told me I was disobeying him. I looked at the wall. They put me in a cell.

They held me until 5 a.m. During that time, the detective asked me a few questions, told me I was being charged with breaching the peace and offered me food. I was booked.  They examined my belongings, injuries and asked me if I was in crisis. I asked for a mask multiple times but never received it. I was fingerprinted and photographed and given conditions that I not attend four parks that have had encampments.  I was charged with obstructing an officer.

We need to support our neighbours and demand that everyone has access to quality housing, that it should be put into the hands of the people. Disarm, de-fund and disband the police who carry out this oppression of marginalized people. We need a worker’s government that plans for people’s needs and that puts a stop to them being preyed upon by parasites.

I suffered a little for my actions, but many suffer more everyday from a system that produces enough to meet human needs, but promotes greed. Similar contradictions are surfacing around the world as capitalism gnaws at the bone in its insatiable hunger. I encourage all to join Socialist Action and the mass social justice movements for a better world.