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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

BLM-TO protesters "held for hours without access to legal counsel"

That they were denied access to legal council by Toronto police is backed up by multiple sources.

On the morning of Saturday, July 18, rallies were held at Ryerson University and Queen's Park organized by Black Lives Matter Toronto "in support of demands to defund the police, invest in communities and create emergency safety services that do not harm Black and Indigenous people."

During these rallies "the group artistically disrupted statues of slaveholders and monuments to colonialism" at both locations according to a press release.

Essentially, statues of John A. MacDonald, Egerton Ryerson and King Edward VII had some pink paint put on them along with various messages including "Tear down monuments that represent slavery, colonialism and violence".

As always happens after actions like this, some in the media and online have tried to exaggerate it describing the paint on colonial monuments as "violence" (which is inane) or criminal vandalism, which misrepresents the purpose.

Those engaging in this deflection prefer it to having to respond to the central points of the protesters.

Syrus Marcus Ware, an organizer with Black Lives Matter - Toronto pointed out:

Much like the institution of the police, these statues are monuments that glorify the ugliest parts of our history and our present. If this society truly believes that Black lives matter, it's not enough to simply say so in words. Let's refuse to honour colonialism, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy. Let's tear down monuments to anti-Blackness and colonialism, including the police system. Let's build a society that truly values safety for all of us.

On police funding BLM-TO notes that the "city of Toronto spends just over 25% of taxpayer dollars on funding the police. That's a cost of $1.13 billion dollars, comparable to the tax dollars spent on public transportation, the library, children services and public health combined".

After the disruption of the statues to long dead racists and colonialists, the Toronto police arrested three people, Daniel Gooch, Jenna Reid and Danielle Smith, for having allegedly participated. They were charged with three counts of mischief and conspiring to commit an offence.

The conduct of the police after these arrests has come under deserved and deep scrutiny.

Another BLM-TO press release, in the early hours of July 19, when the three were still in custody, states that the "treatment of those arrested at the BLM – TO action has been appalling and egregious at every turn. Initially, protesters were held for hours without access to legal counsel."

That they were denied access to legal council is backed up by multiple sources. Rima Berns-McGown, is an NDP MPP and Official Opposition critic for poverty and homelessness:

Their lawyer, Saron Gebresellassi, posted an entire thread about the incident.

The thread continues on from there.

City Councillor Josh Matlow supports her account:

At 5:30 p.m., TPS sent out a press release announcing that two of the three protestors had been released. This release was blatantly false. All three protestors remain in detention as of midnight July 19, 2020. Legal counsel has received no updates as to their estimated release time, and TPS appears to have disconnected the phone lines early in the day. "I am not surprised that the police have conducted themselves with such dishonesty," said Ravyn Wngz, an organizer with BLM – TO. "This week we learned of the scam they are running with tow trucks. We saw the recent conviction of one of the Therriaults. We saw the charges laid against TPS members who were trafficking underage women. These actions are consistent with the way the police conduct themselves."

As this was unfolding several hundred supporters of those arrested began protesting outside of 52 Division.

In the end the pressure worked and the three were, in fact, released.

Despite the accounts from their lawyer, the MPP, City Councillor and others, TPS has since tried to claim the "three arrests were made in accordance with the law and all rights were respected."

Sarah Jama, BLM – TO member, however, sees it very differently:

...what has happened to these protesters is exactly the issue that people are protesting all across North America: the harmful policing of our communities. Working to end anti-Black racism in our society continues to be met with arrest and punishment. The police are unwilling to change and this is why there are so many people across the country supporting the demand to defund.

The issue here is that you have these statues of people who have committed colonial violence and, and racist violence, frankly, and who still stand for those things at a time when in theory, we are trying to turn Canada around and to make amends for centuries of that violence, and yet the statues still stand.


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