2016 Hero: Black Lives Matter Toronto
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2016 Hero: Black Lives Matter Toronto

Nominated for: encouraging Toronto to have necessary conversations about race and policing.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2016 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 11:59 p.m. on January 5. At noon on January 6, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
In 2016, Black Lives Matter Toronto provided a platform for racialized residents to amplify their voices, and encouraged Torontonians to reflect on race and policing.

This is no small feat.

Too often, Toronto is afraid of difficult discussions. The arguments, insights, or outcomes from these issues might be inconvenient, and we can’t have that. In our Orange Order and Toronto the Good sensibility—still a very real undercurrent after all these years—a discourse that uses protest as a core tool is simply impolite, and should be avoided.

Through their ongoing actions, Black Lives Matter Toronto has shown that protest still plays a vital role in shaping our city. Their ongoing vigilance has provided an important corrective to policing practices which too often go overlooked or are begrudgingly accepted as just the way things are done. Black Lives Matter Toronto has dared to speak up and demand better, and for that they should be commended.

When Kathleen Wynne meets with Black Lives Matter, or Pride Toronto signs a list of demands after the group halted the parade, critics come out in full force against the group. The argument goes that they hi-jack the discourse, or didn’t pick the right moment. If only, the argument continues, they would be more considerate of others, or would learn to protest the right way, or grew less focused on their own narrow concerns.

This misses the issues raised by Black Lives Matter Toronto, and the urgency with which they are felt by so many citizens. Questions about the Special Investigations Unit, the group that oversees police conduct, are crucial to accountability, and should concern all Torontonians. Questions about Andrew Loku’s unfortunate death—he was shot by a police officer in 2015—deserve answers. These concerns are not new—look back over 25 years ago to the death of Lester Donaldson—but the problems are still acute.

At its best, Black Lives Matter doesn’t hold Toronto institutions hostage, but holds them to the higher principles to which they should strive. The latter may be inconvenient at times, but they’re values worth fighting for.