Police presence in Toronto schools contingent on review as board defers vote until December
Published Thursday, June 15, 2017 10:25AM EDT Last Updated Friday, June 16, 2017 12:02PM EDT
A controversial program which stations armed, uniformed officers in some Toronto-area schools was on the brink of suspension Thursday, before a police services board meeting decided to defer it following further review.
The decision comes after an eight-hour explosive debate, which drew a passionate response from members of Black Lives Matter Toronto who pushed to have the program eliminated for “discriminating against racialized youth.”
The supplementary motion proposed by Mayor John Tory for a full review before he’ll consider scraping the program was passed shortly after 9 p.m.
The review will be led by Chief Mark Saunders, two board members – aiming to develop an interim report by August. At that time, the committee will be expanded to include input from school leaders and community members.
The final decision on the program will then be made by the end of the year.
The events prompted outcry from Black Lives Mater who voiced concerns the review by police and educators will be detrimental. Again the decision came under fire as people chanted “shame.”
"There are children that are being targeted, afraid to go to school because of police," Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Rodney Diverlus said. "This is an urgent matter. It's so tiring that it's being left to another report."
‘Time to review the program’
This deferral comes after more than 70 people spoke for and against the School Resource Officer (SRO) program at its afternoon monthly meeting.
Throughout the meeting many asked for a second time to suspend the program.
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“Police officers in schools have been discriminating against black children, indigenous children and other racialized youth and I just don’t think that there is a world where we need to have guns in schools with kids who are there trying to learn,” Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Sandy Hudson told CP24.
Coun. Shelley Carrol told CP24 she supports a review of the program and public consultation. She says the “program really isn’t being delivered consistently in all of its locations because there is a really polarized opinion.”
“What that means is it’s time to review the program anyway. It may not need to be suspended but it certainly needs to be examined and improved,” she added.
Board considers suspending SRO program
The contentious School Resource Officer effort was launched in 2008 after the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Jordan Manners at a North York school, marking the first time a student had been killed inside school halls.
The goal of the program, funded by a federal grant, is to strengthen relationships between youth and police. It has since assigned 36 uniformed officers to work in 75 different schools, semi-permanently, across the city.
A motion was tabled by a member of the seven-person civilian board Ken Jeffers in response to the deputations at its last meeting in May. It called to “immediately suspend” the program “pending a meeting/consultation with stakeholders.”
Saunders urged caution and stressed the importance of public consultation.
“If we want to get this right, we have to listen to everybody and not just sections of them, so we’re looking at doing that and making sure we make the right decision,” Saunders previously said.
Board members opted to defer the debate, voting on Jeffers’ motion.
Discussions resumed after brief protest erupts
A brief protest broke out at police headquarters where the meeting was being held after police critic and activist Desmond Cole held up the meeting happening inside, saying the officers in attendance should be removed and community members brought in.
Hudson told CP24 that police have “clearly stacked the room” with their supporters. Others said many of the people inside are actually students who wish to speak about their experience with the program.
Dozens of Black Lives Matter Toronto members were not allowed in because of an over capacity issue, leading them to chant “let us in.”
“We are here to be heard. It’s not about causing a riot,” Arauz said. “What the TDSB board members have to understand is that this is an emotional situation where we know that there are youth hurt by the SRO program.”
As co-chair of a group of teachers, parents and students called Latinx, Afro-Latin-America Abya Yala Education Network, Arauz has been organizing events to oppose officers in schools.
“Cops in schools is something that is not supported by the Ministry of Education as teachers have to go through about seven years of education to be educating our students,” said Silvia Argentina Arauz, a member of the group Education Not Incarceration. “There is conflict de-escalation and there is conflict mediation that can occur without cops in schools.”
‘Always had good things to say about cops’
A number of black students said the Student Resources Officer program have been a big part of the school’s transformation and enriching their experience. They want to see the program continue.
“I’ve always had good things to say about cops,” Jordan Jackson told CP24 outside the meeting Thursday. “Our SRO has been there for me countless amounts of times. Officers even offered me after school help.”
The officer recently moved from his school, Jackson says he has been in contact with him since because he serves as a mentor to him. He is now planning to become a police officer himself.
Another student who recently graduated, Nathan President, says he owes a lot to his Student Resource Officer Const. John Freeman.
“He supported us through everything we’ve been through,” President said. “He reaches out to the students. He provides options instead of students going out at lunch doing negative things, they’re inside exploring the options he has presented.”
Freeman said in his deputation that removing the program will reduce positive outreach to students, which he has spent time trying to foster.
“My presence in the school has contributed to the environment,” he told the Police Services Board.
‘Behind this uniform there is a human’
While opposition to the program claims officer’s presence intimidates marginalized youth, another student Oluwatobi Falana said she feels safe.
“I do not think police officers in my school are racist in any way or form,” Falana said. “They’re just normal people.”
This is the kind of dialogue Const. Peter De Quintal, a School Resource Officer at three high schools, wants the board to have.
“I have students here who are black youth who are going to speak to the benefits of the program, who have had nothing but good to say about the program, so why not be open to the otherside and hear the dialogue?” he asked.
Nancy Mancini is a student at the Blessed Archbishop Roman Catholic Secondary school. In her deputation, she told the room that she has built a relationship with De Quintal.
“Losing our SRO would be a big blow,” she said, adding the program has built trust and care within the community.
In the two years that De Quintal has been an SRO, he explained the “positive impact” his presence in the schools has had on his students – not just as a police officer, but also as a role model and person.
“It’s a means of engagement and it’s bridging those gaps between them,” he told CP24. “It’s realizing that behind this uniform there is a human.
“I wasn’t always a police officer; I was a high school student myself. I have other interests and it’s a great example to be able to bond with them and make connections with them.”
He claims that many of the students have opened up to him who haven’t been able to open up to a staff member in the same way.