‘De­fund­ing is the first step’

Thou­sands march peace­fully for change in Toronto, unit­ing with demon­stra­tions across East­ern Canada

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - PETER ED­WARDS STAFF RE­PORTER

Ral­lies in Toronto hear calls for po­lice funds to be di­vested, as U.S. protests grow in wake of shoot­ing. Cov­er­age,

At least 2,000 protesters marched to­ward Toronto’s down­town po­lice head­quar­ters Satur­day af­ter­noon, after two peace­ful but pas­sion­ate demon­stra­tions that called for fund­ing to be trans­ferred from po­lice bud­gets to com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Sev­eral protests were held across East­ern Canada, in­clud­ing events in Mon­treal, Fred­er­ic­ton, Hal­i­fax and Lon­don, Ont., in sup­port of the Black Lives Mat­ter Move­ment.

Or­ga­niz­ers called upon cities to re­duce po­lice bud­gets by 50 per cent. De­mon­stra­tors from the Coali­tion for BIPOC Lib­er­a­tion said pub­lic money should be shifted to com­mu­nity ini­tia­tives, such as smaller class sizes, af­ford­able hous­ing, jobs for youth, bet­ter men­tal health treat­ment and civil­ian con­flic­tres­o­lu­tion ser­vices.

There were cheers at Christie Pits as a speaker called for an end to the prison sys­tem. Other de­mon­stra­tors pushed for the re­lease of pris­on­ers who can be re­ha­bil­i­tated, with only ex­tremely vi­o­lent of­fend­ers re­main­ing in cus­tody.

Some protesters wore pink and red arm bands, sig­ni­fy­ing they were mon­i­tors on call to help any­one in dis­tress.

“We’re go­ing to take care of each other,” a speaker at Christie Pits said, to a cho­rus of cheers. “We keep us safe.”

“To­day we are here to abol­ish the po­lice,” an­other speaker said, to an­other round of cheers. “De­fund­ing is the first step. It is sim­ply the first step.”

Calls to with­draw po­lice fund­ing have am­pli­fied and mul­ti­plied in Canada and the United States in re­cent months after the death of Ge­orge Floyd in May dur­ing a po­lice stop in Min­nesota.

The sit­u­a­tion in­ten­si­fied a week ago after a po­lice of­fi­cer in Kenosha, Wis., shot Ja­cob Blake in the back seven times, leav­ing the 29-year-old Black man par­a­lyzed.

In the GTA, some protesters were crit­i­cal of a re­port re­leased Wed­nes­day by the Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tions Unit, which cleared seven Toronto po­lice of­fi­cers in the death of 29-yearold Regis Korchin­ski-Pa­quet, who fell from a west-end highrise bal­cony with po­lice on the scene in May. There were mega­phones, masks, so­cial dis­tanc­ing and mu­sic at a late-morn­ing up­town rally and march at Downsview Park, as well as the much larger af­ter­noon event down­town. Protesters car­ried signs such as “De­fund the po­lice,” “De­fund bru­tal­ity, fund hu­man­ity,” “Cops aren’t sup­posed to kill guilty peo­ple ei­ther,” “Abol­ish the po­lice” and

“Black Lives Mat­ter.” “We de­mand our ba­sic hu­man right to live peace­fully with the eq­ui­table op­por­tu­nity to live our best lives, take care of our fam­i­lies and sup­port our com­mu­ni­ties,” protesters with Not An­other Black Life said in a pre­pared state­ment.

“With­out the re­moval of the laws of colo­nial­ism, the lib­er­a­tion of Black, In­dige­nous and peo­ple of colour will cease to ex­ist. In­vest in peo­ple, not po­lice. Re­al­lo­ca­tion Com­mit­tees will en­sure fund­ing di­vested from po­lice forces will be re­al­lo­cated back to com­mu­ni­ty­based ini­tia­tives.” The spectre of COVID-19 hung over the day, with masks, san­i­tizer and wa­ter made avail­able to marchers, who largely ob­served phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing. A sup­porter who iden­ti­fied him­self as FuzzyWuzzy­TO tweeted, “I’ll be hon­est, COVID makes me very ner­vous about go­ing to the big De­fund Po­lice rally to­day at Christie Pits … but I fig­ure PoC (peo­ple of colour) risk their lives ev­ery day just by breath­ing, so it’s kind of the least I can do. I’ll be as care­ful as I can.” Among the marchers were sup­port­ers of For­ward Through Progress and the Afro In­dige­nous Ris­ing Col­lec­tive, who said on Face­book about the push for mas­sive cuts to po­lice bud­gets: “We need to DE­FUND as a means to ABOL­ISH.”

Lo­cal events be­gan with a First Na­tions cleans­ing cer­e­mony, ac­knowl­edg­ing that the demon­stra­tion was tak­ing part on tra­di­tional In­dige­nous lands.

Some de­mon­stra­tors acted as mar­shals when the groups marched. The events were mon­i­tored by Toronto po­lice from a dis­tance while pro­vid­ing traf­fic con­trol.

RICK MADONIK PHO­TOS TORONTO STAR

About 2,000 protesters march from Christie Pits to po­lice head­quar­ters, call­ing for an end to racism and the de­fund­ing of po­lice in favour of so­cial ser­vices.

An­other group of about 100 protesters gath­ered at Downsview Park and marched to York Univer­sity, pro­mot­ing the same de­sire to shift po­lice fund­ing to com­mu­nity-based al­ter­na­tives.

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