Illustration by Brett Lamb/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
Torontoist’s Heroes of any given year are typically those shining individuals or institutions whose accomplishments involve community building, progressive development, infrastructure improvement, and the other various forms of civic-mindedness which we so value. This year, we have a rare opportunity to get downright literal with the notion of heroism for one particular candidate: a guy who actually went out and actually fought crime.
Naturally, this isn’t a matter of capes and utility belts, but rather the actions of one brave dude during a particularly shameful time for Toronto. The G20 brought out the worst in our city across the board—we saw our police force transformed into an obfuscating martial goon squad, while other masked opportunists set about smashing with impunity. Many watched in shock and horror as our leaders lied to us, our quote-unquote protectors attacked us, and our supposed peers disappointed us. With the city split by chaos, it felt impossible to have an opinion on events without immediately being branded either a fascist or an anarchist.
It seemed that Toronto would be doomed to burn, along with our collective morality, when a glimmer of hope appeared on YouTube, shot by local writer Corey Surge. The seventeen-second clip showed a masked man taking goods from a smashed Bell store on Yonge Street, only to be taken down by a passing samaritan. While the act of vigilantism was moderately thrilling in a comic book sort of way, what really struck a chord with viewers was the manner of the mystery hero’s interference. He didn’t see the event as an excuse to beat on a kid—lord knows we saw enough of that elsewhere—but instead disarmed the bemused criminal as gently as possible, lowering his foe to the ground in a firm headlock, rescuing the merchandise, and releasing the hangdog thief with a firm admonishment: “Don’t steal!”
Don’t steal, indeed.
Across the city, and likely beyond, viewers gave a triumphant fistpump at the voice of rationality in a sea of mayhem, a simple phrase that echoed our plea for order. Skeptics scoffed at the prospect of virtue, professing that the mystery man was probably just another would-be jackboot out to crack some skulls. But doubts were dispelled when Torontoist tracked the hero down for an interview. It turned out the man of the hour was Roger Reis, a Bank of Montreal employee who found himself in the thick of things by sheer chance. What’s more, he was a thoughtful and articulate guy, identifying with both sides of the ideological divide and professing an earnest desire to minimize damage to the city as they clashed.
A single rescued smart phone may have a relatively low intrinsic value on the scale of heroism, but Reis’s actions gave us hope when we had next to none. On those few days at the end of June, Toronto could’ve used a lot more people like him.