Reality Check: Toronto Police Association President on Anti-Black Racism

Demonstrators at a May 2015 Black Lives Matter rally in Toronto. Photo by Elizabeth Littlejohn.

Demonstrators at a May 2015 Black Lives Matter rally in Toronto. Photo by Elizabeth Littlejohn.

I wrote a piece for the Toronto Star last week saying our police force needs to acknowledge systemic anti-black racism, within its own ranks and in society at large. Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack has published an apparent rebuttal, in which he names me and twists my words. I can’t let that stand.

You can read McCormack’s full piece here. Excepts appear below in bold italicsmy own commentary is in regular text.

Over the past few years, the Toronto Police Service has been the subject of accusations of racial profiling and biased policing. Most recently, on the anniversary of the Danzig shooting, an article on this page by journalist Desmond Cole stereotyped Toronto Police Service officers as anti-black racists.

I actually said Toronto police keep killing black people, particularly those who are in crisis or experiencing mental illness, and that at least half of all people killed by our police since 1988 have been black. These two facts are so solid that McCormack’s rebuttal doesn’t address or dispute them. Later in the piece, he does link disproportionate police encounters with black residents to “socio-economic factors such as poverty, unaffordable housing, lack of child-care, access to post-secondary education, unemployment and homelessness.”

Perhaps McCormack does not know that these social ills affect black people so unevenly because of systemic anti-black racism. It’s more likely, as I argued in my original piece, that he and many other police officials just don’t want to talk about it.

While I respect the right of any individual or group to express their opinions, the assumption that police-involved shootings are motivated by systemic racism, to the exclusion of any other possibility, is inaccurate and inflammatory.

Most powerful white people do not like it when black people talk about racism without blaming ourselves for it, or without insisting that “not all white people” are racist. If black people expose racism without qualification or apology, we are told we highlight race “to the exclusion of any other possibility.”

The truth is that white elites recoil at any mention of systemic racism, and refuse to take responsibility for racist outcomes in the societies they dominate. Instead they suggest, as McCormack does, that people like me use allegations of racism simply to garner sympathy and “stir public emotion.” When you are used to dominating people, you can even become jealous of their cries for justice.

I refuse to ignore the role of systemic racism, within policing and Canadian society. I refuse to allow police, who are in denial about their historical and modern propensity to kill innocent black people, to tell us when and how we should talk about racism in policing. McCormack is only comfortable using the term “systemic racism” to downplay or deny its existence in local policing. From that perspective, even one mention of systemic racism must feel like the whole, dreaded conversation.

Some have misrepresented police data to support their irresponsible accusations of racial discrimination. The use of census-based data to identify biased-policing, in the absence of other variables, is outright wrong. Their findings are not proof of a culture of biased policing. Assessing for bias is complicated. While the data may show some disparity, it is not sufficient to substantiate these allegations. This position is supported by the opinions of respected academics.

This is the main thrust of McCormack’s defence of police carding, the practice of stopping and documenting people who are not suspected of any crime. The Toronto Police Service has never voluntarily published data on carding or the impacts of racial profiling, and has refused repeated demands to do so. Police have not offered any data to explain why innocent black people have been so disproportionately carded. McCormack does not cite a single academic whom he claims shares his analysis. We’re still waiting.

These unsubstantiated allegations of racial discrimination are an attempt to stir public emotion and to justify knee-jerk policy changes to police practices.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms says our police cannot detain us arbitrarily, as they have been doing through carding. It’s not knee-jerk to demand that this right be upheld. It’s not radical to say police must tell us why they are stopping and documenting us. Nor is it revolutionary to expect that if police take our personal info, they should provide a receipt of the interaction, as they currently do for traffic tickets.

Despite declining overall crime rates, shooting incidents in Toronto have increased by 48 per cent compared to last year and the number of victims killed or injured is up by 66 per cent.

These stats are accurate, but they don’t explain why police killed Andrew Loku, who never shot anyone but rather got shot and killed by his own police. The numbers don’t tell us why black people who don’t shoot anyone are treated like they might shoot someone, or are about to, or must have info about someone who did. McCormack cites general trends in crime to justify the specific mistreatment of black individuals. This explanation is extremely popular (see systemic racism) but it is irrelevant.

While many American police services have had police reform imposed upon them, we have been ahead of the curve by addressing the issue of bias through mandatory and non-mandatory training standards, policies and procedures, diversity hiring and community-based policing initiatives that are the envy of police services worldwide.

In an attempt to stop the Toronto Star from accessing and reporting on carding data, our police fought the newspaper for seven years. The public didn’t even know the practice existed and when we found out, the police tried to dismiss it and move on. McCormack and former chief Bill Blair then tried to discredit a 2014 study in which community members described how carding has affected them.

The Black Action Defense Committee was formed in 1989 after police shot three black people in a 15 month span — two of them, Lester Donaldson and Wade Lawson, died from their injuries. Police still refuse to confirm the number and proportion of black people they have wounded and killed since 1988, even though that information is part of the public record.

Unfounded allegations of discrimination based on statistical disparities and the postulation that an entire police service is racist, however, are false, inflammatory and counterproductive to meaningful debate.

This type of irresponsible rhetoric simply undermines the good community relations our members have worked to establish and thus harms all Torontonians.

Canadian society exhibits and promotes anti-black racism. Our police and all other institutions keep producing outcomes that disproportionately hurt and disadvantage black people. This is what systemic racism means. If police say “we are not racist,” but they keep inflicting excessive damage to black people, their claims of intolerance to racism are meaningless.

During the G20 protests in 2010, Toronto police officers who themselves might never assault or arbitrarily arrest peaceful civilians watched as many of their colleagues did so. These bystander officers were partially responsible for the beatings and arrests because they saw abuse and remained silent. So it is with racism in policing. We don’t have to label all cops as racists to see that, as an institution, they justify systemic racism instead of looking in the mirror.

Toronto Residents Set Expectations for the Elimination of Police Carding

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TORONTO – In advance of tomorrow’s Toronto Police Services Board meeting, residents are hosting a press conference today to set expectations for the elimination of police carding. They will also ask why the issue of carding is nowhere to be found on tomorrow’s TPSB agenda.

“The absence of an agenda item on carding is mind-boggling,” says activist Desmond Cole, who will host today’s press conference. “Mayor John Tory said he would seek an end to carding at tomorrow’s meeting—where is his plan?” Residents will not tolerate more delays on this issue. The steps to eliminate carding are clear, and will be outlined at the gathering.

Date:               Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Time:               1:30 p.m. EST

Location:         Toronto City Hall, outside Committee Room #1

Participants include:

Desmond Cole, activist and freelance journalist; Akio Maroon, Occupational Health and Safety Worker; Knia Singh, founder of Osgoode Students Against Institutional Injustice; Howard Morton, Law Union of Ontario.

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For more information and to arrange interviews, contact:

Desmond Cole, 647-222-5289, heydesmondcole@gmail.com

Concerned Citizens Demand An End to Police Carding in Toronto

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TORONTO – At a press conference at City Hall, a group of prominent Toronto community leaders will speak out against the practice of police carding. At the time of the press conference the group will also release a joint statement co-signed by more than 35 prominent Torontonians in opposition to carding.

Date:               Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Time:               10 a.m. EST

Location:         Toronto City Hall, outside Committee Room #1

Participants include:

Roy McMurtry, former Chief Justice of Ontario; Gordon Cressy, former President, United Way; Barbara Hall, former Mayor, City of Toronto;

Mary Anne Chambers, former senior VP Scotiabank and former Ontario Cabinet Minister; Anne Golden, Distinguished Professor Ryerson University

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 For more information and to arrange interviews, contact:

Gordon Cressy, 647-500-9236, cressy213@rogers.com

Joanne Campbell 647-961-9236

Stop Carding Now

A growing group of prominent citizens is speaking out against the police practice of carding.  We are committed to a Toronto that is inclusive, diverse, welcoming, and respectful, and carding does not fit that vision.

Carding has led many in our city to distrust and disrespect our police.  Anger, hurt and unrest have replaced any benefits police may derive from this practice.

We all need to oppose carding vehemently.  We resent having to witness its debilitating impact on our neighbours.  It sends a message of hopelessness to young people with black or brown skin.  We cannot and will not accept this for any group or community in our city.  We do not need a new generation of Torontonians growing up to believe our police are their adversaries.

We are offended by the notion of casually and routinely stopping citizens, outside of police investigations of actual criminal acts that have occurred, to question and record, and then store personal data in police files. We are deeply distressed that Toronto residents of colour are subjected to this invasion of their privacy when the overwhelming majority of white-skinned citizens are not.

We believe that carding violates the human rights of citizens. It goes against the principles of our Charter Rights.  It paints a disturbing picture and repeats a narrative that is reminiscent of ugly practices that were historically endured by racialized residents, particularly those of African Canadian backgrounds.

We cannot allow an environment of anger and distrust of our police to exist and fester in our city, particularly among the African Canadian and other racial minority communities.  We cannot sit back and allow this to undermine everything we teach our children about Canada being a fair and equal society.

We urge Mayor John Tory, Alok Mukherjee, Chair of the Police Services Board and Mark Saunders, Chief of Police to immediately cease the practice of carding.  And we call on all citizens of this city to step forward and make known their distaste of this fear-mongering practice.

Our call is not intended to interfere with the common police practice of conducting criminal investigations in order to apprehend criminals in the interest of public safety.  Rather, it seeks to correct an injustice that harms police/community relations, and damages the reputation of our police service and the city it serves.

If this demeaning practice of selected carding is not terminated quickly, it will irreversibly divide and separate our various communities and cultures. We must be a city where every citizen is treated equally and justly.

Stop carding now

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Concerned Citizens to End Carding

Senior Advisors:

Zanana Akande

Former School Principal; Former Minister of Community & Social Services, Government of Ontario

Jean Augustine

Retired School Principal; Former Minister of State for Multiculturalism and Parliamentary Assistant to the Prime Minister, Government of Canada

Mary Anne Chambers

Retired Senior Vice President, Scotiabank; Former Minister of Training Colleges & Universities and Former Minister of Children & Youth Services, Government of Ontario

Alvin Curling

Former Minister of Housing and Former Minister of Skills Development and Former Speaker of the Ontario Legislative Assembly, Government of Ontario; Co-Author, Roots of Youth Violence Report for the Ontario Government, 2008

Councillor Michael Thompson

City Councillor, Ward 37, Scarborough Centre, City of Toronto

Founding Members:

Max Beck

Retired CEO, Easter Seals; Former CEO, Ontario Place

Harold Brathwaite

Executive Director, Retired Teachers of Ontario; Former Director, Peel Board of Education

Joanne Campbell

Former General Manager, Shelter & Housing, City of Toronto; Retired Vice President, Communications & Community Relations, CAMH

Gordon Chong

Former Toronto City Councillor; Former Member of the Toronto Police Services Board; Former Chair of the YMCA of Greater Toronto; Former Chair of the Metro Toronto Housing Authority; Current Member of the Board of Governors of the Mon Sheong Foundation

Gordon Cressy

Former President & CEO, United Way of Greater Toronto; Former Vice President, Universities of Toronto and Ryerson; Former Chair, Toronto Board of Education

David Crombie

Former Mayor, City of Toronto; Toronto icon

Joy Fielding

New York Times bestselling author of 25 novels

Paul Garfinkel

Retired President & CEO, CAMH; Professor, University of Toronto

Anne Golden

Former President & CEO, United Way of Greater Toronto; Former President, Conference Board of Canada; Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University

Kamala Jean Gopie

Retired Teacher, TDSB; Past President, Jamaican Canadian Association; Former Member, Ontario Race Relations and Policing Task Force

Joan Green

Former Director, Toronto Board of Education; Founding CEO, Ontario Education Quality & Accountability Office

Barbara Hall

Former Mayor, City of Toronto; Retired Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission

Denham Jolly

President, Jolly Corporation Inc.; President and CEO of Milestone Radio Inc.; Principal Share Holder of Tyndall Nursing Home Limited

Cheuk Kwan

Executive Director, The Harmony Movement

Michele Landsberg

Journalist and Author

Frances Lankin

Former President & CEO, United Way of Greater Toronto; Former Minister of Government Services, Chair of Management Board of Cabinet and Minister of Health, Government of Ontario

Sheldon Levy

President and Vice Chancellor, Ryerson University

Stephen Lewis

Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations and Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa;  Author of “Racism in Ontario” a report to the Premier of Ontario 1992

David McCamus

Retired President & CEO, Xerox Canada Ltd.; Former Board Member and Campaign Chair, United Way of Greater Toronto

Lloyd McKell

Retired Executive Officer for Equity, Toronto District School Board

Roy McMurtry

Retired Chief Justice of Ontario; Former Attorney General, Government of Ontario; Co-Author, Roots of Youth Violence Report for the Ontario Government, 2008

Penny Milton (Moss)
Former Chair, Toronto Board of Education; Retired CEO, Canadian Education Association

Peter Oliver

Founding Partner, Oliver and Bonacini; Founding President, The Leacock Foundation

Walter Pitman

Former President, University Ryerson and OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education); Author “Now Is Not Too Late”, report on Race Relations in Toronto, 1978

Bev Salmon

Former Metropolitan Toronto and North York Councillor; Former Commissioner Ontario Human Rights Commission; Past Chair, Race Relations Committee Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Warren Seyffert

Deputy Chair and Lead Director of Teck Resources; Vice Chair of the Kensington Health Centre

Joseph Wong

Family Physician; Chair, Yee Hong Community Wellness Foundation; Former Chair, United Way of Greater Toronto; Founding Chair of the Board, ALPHA Education

Robert J. Wright

Retired Partner, Lang Michener LLP; Former Chair, Ontario Securities Commission; Founding Board Member, Pathways to Education

John Tory supports carding, but doesn’t seem to know what it is

Photo taken from the City of Toronto website., www.toronto.ca

Photo taken from the City of Toronto website., http://www.toronto.ca

Mayor John Tory was one of five police board members who voted in favour of new police carding procedures at last night’s meeting. If you’ve been following my work, you know that carding is the extremely controversial police practice of stopping civilians who are not suspected of a crime, and documenting their personal information.

Tory, who appointed himself to the board late last year, should understand this basic definition of the carding practice. Yet mere moments after he had voted to continue carding, Tory described the same non-criminal police interaction he had just endorsed as “corrosive”. He noted the disproportionate impact carding has on black and brown residents, insisted police would never document his white children.

“I have no doubt that that is going on, and as I said, one time is too many,” said Tory of needless interactions between police and young black and brown residents. He said this as if it was news to the room full of advocates who have been making the same argument for over three years, and whose repeated requests for reform Tory had just ignored.

Does the mayor actually undersand the policy he just approved, and the context of the larger debate on biased interactions between police and racialized people? Other comments he made yesterday suggest he does not.

Tory also suggested that forcing the police to reform carding might actually be more dangerous for communities than keeping the practice, because police might resent the changes and would retaliate by harassing residents. In other words, the mayor suggested that board attempts to reform or curb carding would lead to more carding.

Below are transcribed excerpts from Tory’s speech. You can also view the tape of his remarks by clicking here (Tory’s remarks start at 3:09:11). Tory’s full remarks reveal he is more likely to placate police power than challenge it, more likely to describe police intransigence as an “impasse” for which both parties are to blame.

I’m not sure why John Tory wanted to be on the police board, but he seems an unlikely candidate to hold police to account on carding, particularly because he seems to misunderstand the issue, and his role in addressing it as a member of the police board.


“Well thank you  mister Chair, and I would just…we’ve voted but I would like to put into context, certainly, my vote, and I think it’s important to do that in the context of a full and open discussion of this. First of all, I don’t doubt for a second—in fact I had a roundtable at Downsview Park about a month and a half ago, with kids from Neighbourhood Improvement Areas, and most of them are not kids [interrupted by hecklers] most of them were not, they were kids who had…they weren’t white kids, they were kids that had black or brown skin.

We spent the evening talking about a lot of different things, including jobs and so on. But when we did talk about their encounters with the police they did say that, certainly far more often than should be the case—because once is one time too many—that the nature of their encounters, and I’m sort of paraphrasing what they said, is that the windows roll down, of a police car, and a police officer says to them, “hey you, get your sorry backside over here and answer some questions.” And I have no doubt that that is going on, and as I said, one time is too many, And I have no doubt as well, that my kids, if they were stopped in the street, wouldn’t be treated that way.

I also accept the fact, as I’ve said before, that this kind of thing going on, on a continuous basis in any number of places, is corrosive—I use that word. And I mentioned this at the outset, I wanna say, and I took the care to put together some notes last night because I thought I was likely to vote in favour of the policy with the changes, that we’ve seen today. And I say this first part because I think there have been suggestions to the fact that some of us are in denial as to the existence of a problem, or are somehow unsympathetic about the problem, and I just want to say, first of all, that`s patently false.

Now, moving beyond that, I wanna put into context— and I think context has been lacking in this discussion in a lot of the commentary that we’ve all sort of seen and heard— I can only speak for myself and what was going on at the time I arrived at the police service board four months ago, and that was that there was an obvious impasse on this issue at that time.

So when we go back to the 2014 policy as was moved, that would would have taken us back to exactly the same situation we were in five or six months ago, when , yes, there was a policy, and people might have thought they liked it. As [board member] Ms. Moliner said, it became a lot more popular suddenly in the last little while. But the bottom line is that that policy could not, and was not operationalized. There was an impasse in that regard.

The policy had been approved eight months earlier, in April, a year ago from now, and nothing much had really happened. Communication, I would say—and I’ll speak only for myself—was diminishing, attitudes were hardening on all sides. Not, I don’t think, motivated by bad faith, or at all involving insubordination—I think there was no hint of that whatsoever, but I think driven by very honest and very sincere, but also very passionate difference of opinion about the law, about the practical aspects of implementing and operationalizing that policy.

And I will say, like most if not all other human beings, police leadership was probably moving more slowly in the face of this difference of opinion, than if there had of been wholehearted agreement. But I am satisfied this was not insubordination and I guess that’s just the point.

After I had been a month on the board it was obvious to me that notwithstanding all the time that was being put in, by the chief and by the members of the board and by our [legal] council, Mr. Addario, no progress was being made—none. No progress at all. We were at a complete stalemate and I think when that happens, you have two choices: you say, “that’s it”, and provoke some sort of a…I don’t know if you want to call it a confrontation, which I think would have reverberated all the way through the police service in a way that I think would have made relations worse on the street; or, do you make one more effort to see what you can achieve, and measure that result against the alternative, which was and is an impasse, and a policy vacuum, by the way?”

“…Many of the commentators have said the chief should have just been ordered to do what the board old him, and that he in turn would order the members of the police service to do what they’re told by him. And that can happen. But it’s my experience, in every single capacity that I’ve had,—as a father, as a colleague, in business and elsewhere (and I expect it’s true of police officers, I don’t know for sure)—you can order people to do things, and you will get a degree of compliance when you do that, but it will be insincere and incomplete because people are being ordered to do something.”

Authors of United Nations report on cities gather in Toronto

Image courtesy of UN-HABITAT.

Image courtesy of UN-HABITAT.

SEPTEMBER 25, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

United Nations officials, academics, and economists are gathered in Toronto this week as they prepare a report on the health and state of the world’s cities. The 2015 Global Cities report, which will inform the United Nations Habitat III conference in 2016, will define a new urban agenda in the face of rapid global urbanization, and challenges in housing and sustainable urban development.

CLICK HERE for the most recent global cities report (2012-13)

Media are invited to a press conference on Friday September 26, 2014 at 11 a.m. at St James Centre, 65 Church Street in Toronto. Speakers will include:

Eduardo Moreno Lopez, Director of Research and Capacity Development at UN-HABITAT in Nairobi, Kenya

Reza Pourvaziri, President of the International City Leaders Foundation (host organization)

Adam Vaughan, Liberal Member of Parliament for Trinity-Spadina

The gathering of experts is focused on cities’ role in improving the quality of life of urban swelers and protecting their environments. “By focusing on urban leadership capacity, we hope to reinforce the city prosperity agenda for all cities,” said Pourvaziri in a welcome message to participants.

The speakers and other meeting participants, who are international experts in urban sustainability, global finance, and the environment, will be available to meet with the media following the brief press conference.

About the International City Leaders Foundation:

The ICLF provides a broad range of dynamic, integrated and evidence based programs for officials looking to maximize their impact as city leaders. ICLF hopes to provide a host of customized solutions that focus on taking action to improve cities, with contributions from former mayors, members of the media, the private sector and all levels of government.

Through the mobilization and strengthening of local capacities that plan, co-ordinate and manage sustainable local city development, city leaders can help promote economic development with smart growth strategies to connect infrastructure investments with overarching efforts in poverty reduction.

 For more information or to RSVP:

Contact Desmond Cole
heydesmondcole@gmail.com
647 294 2994

Permanent Resident Voting Isn’t “Backward,” It’s Back To The Future

The Toronto city council motion on allowing permanent residents to vote in local elections paseed 21-20.

The Toronto city council motion on allowing permanent residents to vote in local elections paseed 21-20.

Dissenters of the idea of permanent residents voting in our local elections, an idea Toronto city council endorsed this week, love to bang the drum of the status quo. Many reference, in the most superficial terms, the traditions enshrined within our British parliamentary system. They take offense at the mere suggestion of reform, as if the human and financial costs of our ever-lengthening citizenship process  are mere inconveniences we must all bear.

But why don’t critics like the Globe and Mail‘s Marcus Gee, who unfortunately called the request to enfranchise permanent residents a “thoroughly backward idea,” ever mention that permanent residents have historically always been allowed to vote locally? This back-to-the-future proposal is a well-documented part of our history, and a seemingly inconvenient fact for those who expect today’s newcomers to pipe down and get back in line.

The legal status of Canadian citizenship, the one Gee and others suggest is inextricably linked to voting, did not come into existence until 1947 under the Canadian Citizenship Act. Even after we established citizenship, British subjects retained the right to vote in local elections, until 1988 in Ontario, and until 2006 in Nova Scotia. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms  Queen Elizabeth II signed  into law in 1982 established Canadian citizens as eligible electors in provincial and federal elections; it made no such regulation for municipalities.

This is our history, and  Marcus Gee either does not know it, or does not wish to talk about it in relation to current efforts to expand eligibility in municipal elections. Instead, he dismisses advocates and trivializes an institution of non-citizen voting the British used in Canada for over 50 years. What has changed over time to make this idea so unpalatable to presumed loyalists?

Gee suggests that even if the aim of expanding the local franchise is to encourage newcomers to get involved, “it is more likely do just the opposite.” Here again, our own electoral history contradicts him. In 1977,  the federal government reduced the residency requirement for citizenship from five years down to three, and created dual citizenship provisions. The explicit purpose of these changes was “to make citizenship more widely available…and to remove the special treatment for British nationals and the remaining discrimination between men and women.”

So while the government itself has historically eased barriers to citizenship to boost citizenship applications and inclusion, Gee suggests it is these “modest hurdles” of the overcrowded, backlogged citizenship application process that keep us Canucks connected. He says, “you need to join club,” by which he means Canada, to prove loyalty to Toronto, the specific place you have chosen to inhabit and animate. Who exactly is asking for this kind of bizarre bureaucratic proof for local voting, and why?

It bothers me a little that nothing from the twenty minute conversation Marcus Gee and I shared at City Hall yesterday made it into in his piece. It bothers me more that he didn’t seek out the views of someone like Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, a former equity officer at the city who encouraged me to consider permanent resident voting in a historical context.

Gee didn’t solicit the voice of any of the 250,000 or more permanent residents living here, to ask them why they will not accept what he calls the “perfectly reasonable bargain” of the status quo. He didn’t cite a single statistic on migration, or perceptions of inclusion, nor did he provide any historical context for his views.

Instead, Gee’s piece focuses on the anecdotes and speeches of four Toronto city councillors, who mostly relate personal stories and, aside from Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), characterize historically enfranchised non-citizen voters as incomprehensible, potentially dangerous people who ought to learn their place.

Gee applauds an anecdote by councillor Karen Stintz (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) about her father, whom she says appreciated the fact that non-citizens like him could not vote.  “What we can’t afford to do is give up what is important to this nation, to this country and this city, which is a sense of belonging.” Like Gee, Stintz is telling us that in a modern city like Toronto, we demonstrate local fidelity primarily by taking federal tests and swearing international oaths, not by living, working, listening, volunteering, interacting, or playing together.

Sorry friends—we don’t live in that imagined city or country. Where we live, definitions of citizenship, ownership, and belonging have changed over time, but have always reserved the greatest voting privileges for property owning, male, white loyalists of a certain age from the United Kingdom, our old colonial master.

Interestingly, non-citizen commonwealth member residents can currently vote in the UK’s local elections as so-called “commonwealth citizens.” At least 25 other countries, including the United States, allow non-citizen voting in one form or another. But Councillor Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) just couldn’t resist his own “grateful immigrant” narrative during Tuesday’s debate. Ford falsely claimed, twice in the same speech, that “I didn’t have the right to vote” while living in Chicago, Illonois. He then endured jeers from councillors who know that any parent with a child in Chicago’s schools can vote for the city’s school trustees.

In 1876, nine years after our 1867 Confederation, the government created the first Indian Act to cement the assimilation of the Native people of this land into law. Native people were said not to belong on their own soil. Women who built our country alongside men were deemed non-entities by the Crown for hundreds of years. Slaves brought here to modernize and connect this vast land were systematically disenfranchised from institutions in the name of purity and caution.

What on earth did those regimes, pieces of which are still in place today, have to do with inclusion, or order, or waiting one’s turn?

Fear and undue scrutiny have met every religious and ethnic minority group to arrive here, and the system we still use to categorize immigrants also disenfranchised the original stewards of this land. Those courageous enough to challenge both these rules, and the privileged class who maintained them, embodied the Canadian values of equality, inclusion, and pluralism that most of us recognize and celebrate today.

Some of the vestiges of our colonial voting system have served some of us very well, and should be extended. Some rules are as inappropriate and marginalizing today as they were two centuries ago, and should be thrown out. We lose our history when we pretend the face of historically arbitrary vote segmentation is always smiling, understanding, grateful, eager to please. This sentiment merely perpetuates the phony narrative that those divided from privilege are and have been deficient or disloyal, until the paperwork finally clears and they are saved.

We are telling the stories of people whose entire lives are in this city, but who cannot vote for their local school trustee, mayor, and councillor. Given that our remedy is to revive a practice that served the British crown for decades,  all the faux-patriotic anger we are hearing requires an explanation, if not an outright retraction.

~Desmond Cole is the acting project coordinator of I Vote Toronto, a campaign to extend the municipal vote to Toronto’s permanent residents.

Permanent Residents Should Vote in Toronto’s Elections

Cities for everyone

At its June meeting, Toronto City Council will consider asking the province to allow Toronto’s permanent residents the right to vote for their school board trustee, city councillor, and mayor.

Across Toronto, a quarter-million people live, work, play and send their children to school; yet they have no vote in how the city is run because they are not Canadian citizens.

Tell Toronto City Council you support extending the municipal vote to Toronto’s permanent residents. Add your name, or your organization’s name, to this letter by signing the form below the open letter.

To Toronto City Council:

We are writing to urge you to join us in supporting a call to support allowing municipal voting for all permanent residents who live in the City of Toronto.

At any given time there are at least 250,000 voting age permanent residents of the city, living, working and paying taxes here, but unable to vote in municipal elections. At the same time, non-resident owning or renting property in the city are permitted to vote. Furthermore, citizenship is taking longer to acquire with recent federal changes, resulting in delays of up to 10 years.

The municipal franchise in Ontario needs to evolve to reflect our modern realities. The franchise was developed in the 1800’s and needs to change to reflect the 21st century reality of our diverse urban city.

Allowing permanent residents to vote will contribute to the settlement process in a city that relies on immigration for its economic and social development, integrating newcomers into a more democratic civic community.

From the City of Toronto staff report:

“As part of City Council’s recent consideration of the Toronto Newcomer Strategy, the Community Development and Recreation Committee heard from a number of academics, community-based service providers and community funders on a range of immigration and settlement issues, including the eligibility of permanent residents to participate in municipal elections.

“Toronto remains among the most diverse cities in the world, with more than half of all city residents born outside of Canada. While historically the great majority of Canadian immigrants achieve full citizenship, a number of residents are finding it increasingly difficult to attain Canadian citizenship due to changes in federal legislation, policies and procedures. In some cases, permanent residents may choose not to attain citizenship due to fear of loss of status in their home country. Toronto’s permanent residents are active members of the city and their communities.

As non-citizens, immigrants living in Toronto with permanent resident status are not eligible to participate in the elections process. This restriction has been repeatedly raised by researchers and community advocates as a disincentive to permanent residents’ greater participation in Toronto’s municipal civil society and an unnecessary marginalization of particular voices in municipal elections. These residents contribute to the financial viability of Toronto as property taxpayers and consumers of City programs with user fees, without representation.”

We, the undersigned, urge city council to vote in favour of extending the municipal vote to Toronto’s permanent residents.

Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)

Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office

Bathurst-Finch Network

Social Planning Toronto

Scarborough Civic Action Network

Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture

St Stephen’s Community House

Community Recreation For All

North York Community House

Taylor Gunn, Chief Elections Officer at Student Vote

Matt Blackett, Publisher of Spacing Magazine

Desmond Cole, former project coordinator of the I Vote Toronto campaign

Kelli Korducki

Amanda Peet

Jordyn Marcellus

Sonal Champsee

Lauren Simmons

Karen Wirsig

Marisol Fornoni

Lucas Costello

James Lokas

Dagny Jackman

Shanley Maguire

Israt Ahmed

Guled Arale

Mark Dunny

Alejandra Bravo

Bob Brent

Serene Tan

Farnaz Behrooz

Rahel Nega

Alicia Pang

Dennis Findlay

Justin Kozuch

Chris Hutchinson

Christopher Evan Jones

Marisa Leon-Carlyle

Ryan Spraggett

Peter Ciurczak

Netami Stuart

Jude MacDonald

Brandon Jacoby

Dale Duncan

Lindsay Anne Black

Rishi Lukka

Stephanie Fysh

Nick Olson-Harris

Tabatha Southey

Meaghan Davis

Nivia George

Kristin T.

Doug Graffeo

Sarah Campbell

Patrycja Trotter

Ali Ahmed

Sun Drews

Chad Townsend

Torgunn O. Townsend

Mary Falconet

Paisley Rae

Lisaa King

Piali Roy

Simon Sharkey-Gotlieb

Mark J. Gold

Bryson Gilbert

Mark Homer

Ken Butler

Greg Smith

Michael Warren

Maria Gruending

Emily-Kate Hunter

Astrid Idlewild, Publisher of Torontolo.gy

Jessica Wilson

Reid Levesque

Marco Campana

Michael O’Shaughnessy

Jeff Everett

Harald Bauder

Pat Baranek

Kim McIntyre

Rosemary Kelly

Mulugeta Abai

Ferdinand R. Alvarez

Selamawit Yohannes

Luca De Franco

Samgeeta

Tristan Laing

Lee Horrocks

Tamara Adizes

Kera Vijayasingham

Anita Khanna

Mike Kim

Ricardo Bravo

Leonardo Zuniga

Kailey Savage

Candice Young

Dianne Oliphant

Rajitharan Rajanthiran

Gabrielle Langlois

Chloe Doesburg

Ige Egal

Matt Elliott

Murray White

Jaime-Leigh Fairbrother

Kim Bethke

Silvia F.

Lanny Ferreira

Gabriela Bravo

Helen Armstrong

François Villeneuve

Julian Solis

Nasrin Jahandideh

Marcia Tamai

Jorge Kanesh

Alyssa Sewlal

Nicolas Kleiman

Randi Reynolds

Toni Francis

Lyn Adamson

Kyle Baptista

Victoria James

Arleigh Crawford

Joe Cressy

Julie Bowring

Rosalyn Johnson