Musings —05.04.2015 03:49 PM—
It was Summer, around 4 a.m.: Dr. John Booth, a veterinarian, awoke from his sleep with a start. A man dressed in black was standing over him, pointing a gun at his head.
“What’s your name?” the man in black yelled. “Who else is in the house?”
Booth’s wife, Hannah, had been sleeping in another room with their six-month-old son, Finn. Three other men in black were inside the West-end house, also waving around guns. Hannah was jarred awake, terrified, and Finn started to cry. The men in black wouldn’t identify themselves, and they weren’t wearing badges, but it was apparent that they might be police. As he was handcuffed – to be hauled outside his home in his pajamas, and forced to sit on the curb – John Booth demanded to see a warrant.
The men in black said they had an arrest warrant, and a search warrant, but that was a lie. They didn’t have a warrant. In fact, they had the wrong house. They were looking for a G20 protestor named “Peter,” not John Booth.
Another Summer, and two years before the Booths’ home was broken into by police officers dressed in black, Desmond Cole and two friends were stopped in Toronto’s downtown, not far from his apartment. Cole – who is a writer who happens to be black – had been stopped dozens of times before by Toronto police, to be “carded.” Carding is a practice wherein police stop civilians and demand information that later gets entered into a database.
The Toronto Police Service’s “contact card” requires an officer to report on a person’s colour before even taking note of things like their address, telephone number or driver’s licence. Toronto’s black population is just over eight per cent – but blacks are carded by the city’s police force just under 30 per cent of the time.
In a Toronto Life magazine piece Cole later did, he writes evocatively about that night in 2008. As they detained Cole and his friends, the police ran the siren on their cruiser. They then demanded to know what Cole was doing. “Walking,” he said. The ordered the trio to produce identification, and then got on their radio to request backup. A police superintendant quickly arrived and required the trio to empty their pockets. He body searched Cole first.
Cole recalls the senior officer saying: “I want you to tell me if I’m going to find anything you shouldn’t have,” he said gravely. “I don’t have anything,” I replied, my legs trembling so violently I thought they’d give out from under me. The officer patted down my pockets, my pant legs, my jacket, my underarms.”
After about an hour, the police finally addressed Cole and his friends. “You can go,” one said.
Full disclosure, as they say: I know John Booth’s wife, Hannah. She, like her husband, is a veterinarian, and I met her – and her son Finn – when I was helping her get on the board of the Toronto Humane Society. She’s a nice person. Similarly, I know Desmond Cole, too: we both used to appear on TV talk shows as pundits, and we would talk a lot before we would go on. He, too, is a nice person.
Notwithstanding the fact that I know both of them, I felt it was important to relate to you what happened to them at the hands of Toronto Police. I felt it was important because those of you who don’t live in Toronto perhaps don’t know what it was like here during the G20 – when the police force essentially went mad, and when they seemed intent on turning this city into Guantanamo by the Lake. Those of you who don’t live in Toronto perhaps don’t know what it is like to be a black man here, either, when you are much more likely to be stopped by Toronto police. On suspicion of being, you know, black.
I don’t know the names of the cops who illegally broke into the Booth home and pointed guns at them. I don’t know the names of the cops who have stopped Desmond Cole at least a dozen times in Toronto and illegally demanded information.
I do know, however, who their boss was, at all relevant times: it was Bill Blair.
Yes, that Bill Blair. The same one who announced his intention to run for the Liberal Party of Canada in a Toronto-area riding, mere days after he left his post as Chief of Police. The same Bill Blair who appeared at event with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. With a straight face, Trudeau said that Blair would have to fight for the Liberal nomination in Scarborough-Southwest – and, almost simultaneously, admitted that his advisers had approached Blair to run.
Asked about the mass arrests at the G20, and the widespread abuse of civil rights that happened there, Trudeau shrugged. “I’m not going to Monday morning quarterback decisions made five years ago by the chief of police,” he said, as Blair beamed at his side. It’s unclear if anyone asked Trudeau about Blair’s enthusiasm for carding blacks, a practice he repeatedly and aggressively defended when he was Chief of Police.
Instead, Trudeau merely said: “One of the things you’ve all seen from me over the past two years is that I have dedicated myself to trying to draw great people into politics.”
If Justin Trudeau really wanted to draw “great people into politics,” he’d be recruiting people like John and Hannah Booth, or Desmond Cole.
Not the thug who victimized them.