Toronto Film Tackles Police Violence
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Toronto Film Tackles Police Violence

Members of a local community organization share stories of being targeted and abused by police.

On October 9, more than a hundred people gathered at the Royal theatre to watch the premiere of What World Do You Live In?, a new Toronto-based film that addresses issues of police violence.

The film chronicles the experiences of several Torontonians involved with Sanctuary—an organization on Charles Street East that offers support to people dealing with homelessness and mental health and addiction issues—who report being targeted and abused by police.

“There’s something so horrifying about the situations they’re describing,” says director Rebecca Garrett, who made the film with the assistance of Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor at Sanctuary until last year, when he moved to Chicago.

At one point in the film, Hatlem recounts the story of a man known as “Iggy”—a Sanctuary member who accepted a beer from a friend on May 3, 2010, and quickly found himself facing what he, and several other Sanctuary patrons and workers, allege was an incident of police brutality.

“I got kicked in the head about 10 times. I went into a seizure—well, part of a seizure, because I’m diabetic—and then they just started beating on me,” Iggy says, sitting on a planter not 20 feet from where the encounter happened four years ago.

Police told Sanctuary workers backing Iggy that there was not enough hard evidence to justify a formal investigation of the incident.

“It’s not normal, not like that,” Iggy says of his May 2010 arrest. He’s been handcuffed at least 80 times in his life, and says it’s not usually as violent as it was that day. “I have a record, and the cops know that, but I’ve been out of prison for 15 years. Too old now for that. But you know what? A lot of [police] are very good. Just every now and again you get a cop that acts up.”

After being released from police custody, Iggy says doctors told him he had a cracked rib and needed 11 stitches in his head.

One man who works at Sanctuary and witnessed the incident says Iggy’s head was bloody, but that he can’t confirm the wound was inflicted by a police officer.

It’s taken Doug Johnson Hatlem some time to recover from hearing stories like Iggy’s. “There can be good people who have good intentions who go into policing,” says Hatlem. “But the system is so corrupt that it corrupts people. Even some of the [police] I’ve had the best conversations with will admit to me privately, ‘Yeah, something went wrong there.’” The film contends that the Toronto Police Service disproportionately targets people who are poor, racialized, or struggling with mental health and addiction issues.

Toronto Police constable David Hopkinson says that’s not the case. “I think that this is a bit of a misnomer. Because everybody thinks that we serve different people in different ways, and I don’t think that we do. I don’t think officers approach people differently at all.”

Hatlem and Garrett chose not to include police officers in the film, in order to keep the focus on the community. Hatlem believes Toronto doesn’t need a police force. “I’ve dealt with very real situations at Sanctuary—guns and knives and sexual assaults—so I’m not going to deny that there are some functions we need human security for, [but] there are alternatives to policing,” he says.

He cites Circles of Support and Accountability—a volunteer-led initiative that works with high-risk sex offenders—as an example of how community support can effectively reduce recidivism.

Iggy says he can hardly find words to describe the support Sanctuary has given him during the years he’s been attending. “They’ll drop anything,” he says. “If I were to go in there right now and say, ‘I want to go to detox,’ they would drop their things and take me.”

Hatlem and Garrett are talking with Toronto universities in hopes of showing What World Do You Live In? to students across the city.

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