By Jordan Maxwell
PRIDE Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario — In a motion tabled by Ward 19 councillor Mike Layton, Toronto City Council unanimously backed a plan to review the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) as lawmakers and activists call for reform.
“For the first time, our local politicians have acknowledged that there is racism going on with the police and that something needs to be done,” Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, told Pride News Magazine in a phone interview Friday. “I’m pleased. There’s more that could’ve been done but this is a good step forward.”
She added that the admission also holds the Province more accountable now as city councillors will be looking to provincial lawmakers to take action against the SIU, a civilian law enforcement agency, independent of the police, that conducts criminal investigations into circumstances involving police and civilians that have resulted in serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault. The Toronto Police Service has drawn heat for confrontational and violent practices over the last several years.
The motion follows weeks of public outcry from organizations, special interest and activist groups like Black Lives Matter Toronto, which have been protesting and holding demonstrations outside of Toronto Police headquarters for nearly two weeks.
The motion seeks to reform the SIU and change the way police monitor minority communities using racial stereotypes. It also seeks to restore the public’s trust in the police, which has eroded over the last several months.
By lobbying the Premier, the Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism and the new Anti-Racism Directorate, as well as the Minister of Community Safety and Ontario Civilian Police Commission, the motion will analyze the SIU through an anti-black and anti-racism lens, according to documents from the City.
What’s more, human rights groups and city councillors want the SIU to start collecting data about the race of any person involved in an SIU investigation for full transparency – a move that will help lawmakers and organizations identify trends.
Before the motion was tabled, Toronto Police Association president, Mike McCormack, beat back criticism against the SIU according to an article from the Toronto Star, in which he called the move “political”. He added that it unfairly implies that within the SIU and Toronto police, there is a problem with systemic racism.
The official motion request from councillors Layton and Kristin Wong-Tam says, “The Province has the authority to ensure that police services are provided equitably and that the mandate of the Special Investigations Unit and its procedures take into account systemic racism.”
“Conducting such a review is a necessary and responsible response to the claims that are being made and what appears to be a growing lack of trust,” it added.