Centre For Local Research into Public Space (CELOS)

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June 1, 2008

Mr. William Blair, Chief of Police, City of Toronto.

Dear Chief Blair,

I am writing to alert you to some problematic actions by officers of Fourteen Division, at a park in downtown Toronto. This letter is prompted by an event at Dufferin Grove Park about three weeks ago, but there is a history that is a good deal longer.

On Monday May 12, 2008, Fourteen Division officers cautioned a group of young black men, frequent park users, who were drinking beer in the park, as well as playing loud music. Then police apparently told these youth to leave the park and not to return, and that if they were found there ever again, they would be arrested for trespass.

The youth did in fact return later and, very upset, called me over when they saw me in the park, to find out if the police have the power to ban them in that manner.

When I inquired with the park’s recreation staff, I was told that a staff person had been present during some of the time when the police were speaking with the youth. She was in the park running her weekly gardening program, and had come over to find out what was happening. She told me that she was asked by the youth to clarify whether the police could ban them, and she herself was confused. When she asked the officers, they apparently told her that they have the authority to permanently ban youth from the park without the need for any written document. The officers also told her that Dufferin Grove is a dangerous park and parents are afraid to come there with their children.

Several days later the Dufferin Grove recreation staff were told by their supervisor that an officer from Fourteen Division had called the supervisor and asked him to pass along a warning: if Dufferin Grove staff interfere with a police investigation, they will be arrested.

The implication is that asking a question is interfering. And indeed, when I have stopped and observed police questioning youth in the park in the past, I have been told that I must move along or risk being arrested for obstruction. Other park users have been told the same thing – standing and watching, even at a distance, is obstruction. So is talking.

The reason for watching is an uneasiness about the actions and attitude of Fourteen Division officers. Too often, police seem to know very little about the park. They often assert that Dufferin Grove is a very dangerous place. This idea goes against the experience of both park users and program staff. Dufferin Grove is well-known across the city as one of the most well-used neighbourhood parks in Toronto, and there’s a reason for that – years of collaboration between city staff and park friends. This includes years of youth work, to gradually (and with lots of effort) build a culture where very diverse groups share the space and generally get along with some fairly marginal young people. It seems that this achievement gets no respect or even awareness from Fourteen Division, and that’s very troubling.

Since police have so often told park users that we don’t know the park like they do, and that much dangerous activity goes on of which we are unaware, our research group finally – after a number of unsuccessful requests for direct information – applied through Freedom of Information in 2005 to request all police occurrence sheets covering the period from the end of January 2002 to the end of September 2005. The first batch of reports omitted all youth and any cases moving through the courts. After waiting for almost two years, we requested the missing occurrence sheets and we have now analyzed the whole series. I enclose the charts we made to show what we found. The overwhelming number of police approaches at the park during that period are either for "loitering” or “routine” – or no reason is given at all. There were no guns found, and the total number of arrests we could find in 364 occurrence sheets were 6, of which one was a computer error resulting in a wrongful arrest, reversed after an hour.

It’s possible that even after the second freedom of information request, some incidents were still omitted, but this is the subject of another inquiry. The point here is that when Fourteen Division officers justify their approach toward youth or toward other park users by saying the park is very dangerous, they are either mistaken or distorting the facts.

I tried to raise these issues in a letter to Supt. Ruth White last October, but she did not answer. That’s why we are now writing to you. These are our requests:

1. Please arrange for an officer to meet with interested Dufferin Grove Park users and staff to explain what constitutes interference and obstruction, and would therefore get an observer arrested. In 2004 a group of us had a seminar with a lawyer knowledgeable about obstruction, and we took careful notes. If we have forgotten something in the rules he laid out, we’d like to find out our error and remedy it. None of us have any intention of obstructing police work.

2. Please let us know which laws and regulations the police were invoking, when issuing verbal Trespass to Property orders to park users who have not been issued with a Trespass Notice by the City.

3. Please arrange for in-service training of Fourteen Division officers, to broaden their awareness of Dufferin Grove Park – what goes on there now and what the community objectives are. Our group would be glad of an invitation to speak.

It’s time to start over, to begin creating a climate of respect and collaboration. I’m hoping you can help with this.

Jutta Mason Administrator, CELOS

Coordinator, Access and Privacy Section,
Toronto Police Service,
40 College Street
Toronto, M5G 2J3

Re: File Number 073075

Dear Ms.Watts,

Thank you for sending our research group the material we requested under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, file number 073075, and thank you also for waiving part of the research fee. Our group was seeking the missing data for all police occurrence sheets and arrest reports for a previous information request, file number 051925, relating to police activity in Dufferin Grove Park between January 2002 and September 2005.

The data your office sent us were helpful to our inquiry. I enclose the results of our analysis, for your files. However we are concerned that there might be some omissions or incomplete entries in the data we received.

There is a reason why we’re wondering about the completeness of the records. During the period covered by the documents, there were several additional police visits to the park, known to our researchers but undocumented in the records we received. Two instances of particular concern are:

1. October 2003 (Oct.6?): a young woman in the park was i.d.’d and taken away in handcuffs. Officer 5404 said there was a warrant out for her arrest for breach of probation. The woman’s 3-month old baby was crying but the officer refused to let the woman breastfeed or take her baby along to 13 Division (the arrest warrant was supposed to be from there). A park user who was observing was told that if she spoke to police about letting the baby be fed before the mother was taken away, she (the park user) would also be arrested. It turned out that, although the young mother was indeed on probation, she had not breached her probation and there was no warrant – there had been a computer error and the woman was released. There is only one possible occurrence card, for Oct.6 2003, 7.30 pm, “Cautioned re drinking in park.”

2. September 5, 2005: Two City staff and four park users reported seeing police in Dufferin Grove Park with a rifle, questioning youth near the basketball court. There were four police cars, and the observers said that the officer had the rifle raised up a few meters away from the youth. After about 10 minutes, the officer holding the rifle put it away into the police car. Afterwards, police were reluctant to answer questions but one officer said that

  • they were following up a report from Brock Avenue, two blocks away, that a youth had been seen riding a bike and holding a gun
  • Dufferin Grove is a dangerous park
  • there had been a shooting in the park two months before, not released to media due to an ongoing investigation

The only Occurrence report for that day simply says: “S/S” – subject stop – giving that officer’s badge number. There was no occurrence card or other report re any shooting in the park at any time.

The officer’s statement to park users, about a previous shooting in the park, and about this extremely popular park being dangerous, was one of the reasons for the original freedom of information request.

If these reports are missing, our group is concerned that other reports may be missing as well. Could you let us know whether we should have been asking for a different form in addition to the occurrence reports and arrest reports, to gain a more complete picture of police activity in the park?

Yours truly,

Jutta Mason, Administrator, CELOS

Content last modified on June 09, 2008, at 03:38 AM EST