Centre For Local Research into Public Space (CELOS)

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Citizen-Z Cavan Young's 2004 film about the zamboni crisis






Police recently informed a group of black youth who were drinking beer in the park that they would be arrested for trespass if they were ever seen at the park again. Here’s a question for the community. Should such youth be permanently excluded?

For years, some of the youth who come to the basketball court have been drinking beer at the side, or under the overhand at the side of the field house Some of them are messy and loud. Sometimes they play uncensored music on their radios. Park recreation staff tell the youth to put their beer away (it’s legal in Europe but not in Canada). The staff move the trash cans closer to the picnic tables and turn off the electrical outlets in the hydro posts so the radios have to run on (weak) batteries. They remind the youth about their language and their loudness. Park friends and staff have gone to court to follow up some of the troublemakers, and let them see that their actions are known.

At the same time, both recreation staff and park friends have been pleased to see that quite a few of these youth mellow over time, as they get jobs and families and become more mature. Some have disappeared into long-time jail but most have not. Even those who have done jail time have sometimes returned after release, older and wiser. A few have cautioned the younger guys as they arrive and the cycle starts over.

Working with youth (or any other park users) who make noise and litter and drink beer openly (and worry other park users) is an ongoing task for recreation staff, a push-and-pull not likely to end soon.

At the same time, the staff are mindful of the city’s policy against discrimination on the basis of race. For some years, the frequent police questioning and seeking of identification from youth who are black or coloured, sometimes just sitting at a picnic table without either noise or alcohol, was a concern for both park friends and park staff. Meetings with police management may have made this a bit less common. However there seems to be gulf between police and park-user perception that continues to be worrisome. Recently an officer said at a public meeting that police prefer to use bicycles at Dufferin Grove rather than driving through the park, because if the youth can see a cruiser coming, they drop their drugs and guns and can’t be charged. Other officers have said that Dufferin Grove is so dangerous that people are afraid to take their children there. This is not generally the perception of park users (Dufferin Grove is very lively with kids and families). It’s also not the perception of youth, who say they come to this park because it’s safe and they can just relax (and drink beer, and off we go again…..)

Police assertions caused park friends to go through police occurrence reports obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These reports appear to bear out park users’ perceptions of Dufferin Grove as a generally peaceful place. The great majority of the reports were apparently random stops for “loitering” or drinking beer (see the park web site for more details). So here’s the question: do people in this neighbourhood want to clean their park by banning such people? A question that needs public discussion.

Content last modified on May 19, 2008, at 03:54 AM EST