Community Activists Speak Out About TAVIS
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Community Activists Speak Out About TAVIS

Anti-poverty group fears extra policing in the Dundas and Sherbourne area ahead of World Pride, Pan Am Games.

Toronto 20140616 00365

OCAP activist Gaetan Heroux speaks at a rally against Toronto Police Yesterday. Photo by Desmond Cole.

Members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and residents around lower Cabbagetown are concerned about extra police presence in the neighbourhood. Police at 51 Division have begun extra patrols in the area as the city prepares for World Pride celebrations and several summer festivities. OCAP held a press conference yesterday at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne streets to declare that officers with the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) are not welcome in the community.

Resident Frank Coburn said the anti-violence squad causes more problems in the impoverished neighbourhood than it solves. “We are ordinary, normal, everyday people who are not meant to be chased and locked up simply because we are poor, and simply because we use drugs,” Coburn told the small crowd. “We need people to treat us with compassion, respect, and dignity.”

Reports from 2009 revealed high rates of violent crime in the Sherbourne and Dundas area. Through its Neighbourhood TAVIS Initiative, 51 Division has increased its activity in the community every summer since then, yet police continue to report persistently high rates of assault, sexual assault, and robbery. The Toronto Star has also reported a very high incidence of police carding—the controversial practice of stopping residents and asking them for identification—in the neighbourhood.

Police spokesperson Jennifer Sidhu confirmed in an interview that police will increase their presence in the area until at least September 8 over concerns of violent crime. “In the summer, everyone is out and about a lot more,” Sidhu said. “You have a chance to create more relationships in the community.” Sidhu rejected the claim that TAVIS is patrolling the area because of the race or class of its residents. “It has nothing to do with racial, ethnic, or socio-economic factors,” she said.

Police also point out that TAVIS increases its presence not just in the Sherbourne and Dundas area, but in several neighbourhoods that experience higher crime rates. Some protestors at the demonstration were equally critical of TAVIS activity across the city. Sabrina Gopaul of Jane Finch Action Against Poverty said TAVIS has criminalized the normal activity of youth in the Jane and Finch area. “TAVIS comes in doing community gardens, doing bike races, having barbecues during the day,” Gopaul said. “But at night they take over staircases, backyards, public property. They run our children off the street.”

A local resident named Sigrid told the gathering that the City should consider spending less on policing in favour of other interventions. “Do we really need more money for policing? I think we need more housing that will help people get off the streets and take care of themselves.”