It was just the prelude to a more proper public meeting, but still.
At 2:59 am Monday, Black Lives Matter – Toronto (BLMTO) put out a press release announcing a “procession” at 11 am.
Having camped out at police headquarters for two weeks seeking accountability for a number of anti-black wrongs — particularly the Special Investigation Unit’s recent decision not to lay charges in the police killing of Andrew Loku — they planned a mock funeral march “to mourn death and injustice” caused by racism, police brutality, and the ineffectiveness of the SIU.
Led by a white pickup truck scattering handfuls of rose petals and playing sombre sax recordings, they made good on the premise, with a trail of black umbrellas stretching west along College.
They soon arrived at the front of Queen’s Park, the bright colours of their banner standing stark against the snow. For the group, it was a straightforward protest: angry yet festive, and cheerfully defiant.
Police and security maintained a solid line across the wide steps of the legislature.
And then, unexpectedly, Premier Kathleen Wynne strode out. Heading straight for the crowd, she was trailed by ministers Madeleine Meilleur (Attorney General), Yasir Naqvi (Community Safety and Correctional Services), and Michael Coteau (Tourism, Culture, and Sport and Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism).
BLMTO had been calling for public meetings with prominent officials, and Wynne decided to take them up on it. This was in contrast to Mayor John Tory, who last week rejected the prospect, telling Newstalk 1010 that meeting in public would be counterproductive and “turn into some kind of a show business thing.”
What follows is a barely-edited transcript of the six-minute conversation between the premier and BLMTO organizers Janaya Khan and Yusra Khogali. (Apologies in advance for any lines that may be misattributed.)
Premier Kathleen Wynne: I’m just going to talk to the people who can hear me. I hope you can all hear me. I’m here with my ministers: Minister Coteau, Minister Naqvi, Minister Meilleur. And I am here because I think this is such—
A megaphone siren accidentally goes off.
Yusra Khogali: Sorry.
Wynne: It’s okay. This is such an important issue.
Wynne: It is such an important issue. And in my heart, I believe that we all need to work together to make sure we get this right. I want you, the reason I’m out here is I want you to understand that. And so I am absolutely willing for us to have meetings, my ministers want to meet with you.
Khogali: Why did it take you two weeks to respond to us?
Wynne: You know what, I am—
Khogali: Two weeks we’ve been outside in the cold and the hail and the rain.
Janaya Khan: Being brutalized by police.
Khogali: Being brutalized by police, being poisoned by them, and there’s children and others in the space. Please tell us why it’s been two weeks.
Wynne: So let me just say that I can’t speak to the timeline. I apologize if we haven’t responded as quickly as you would’ve liked. But here I am saying that we are willing to meet with you. We’re going to need to have your help. We are undertaking a review of the SIU. We are reviewing all the police oversight bodies. We need your help in doing that. You are on the front line. You understand these issues. We need your help in those reviews. We’re going to need to have some private meetings ahead of time, but we are willing to have public meetings. So I really wanted to come and say that to you.
Khogali: Thank you.
Wynne: All of these ministers all have a role to play in getting this right. So I’m asking you to engage with them. I know that Minister Coteau has had a conversation with at least one person already to say “let’s have a meeting.” Let’s figure out how we can move forward. And then let’s have the public meetings. So that’s, that’s what I wanted you to know. Okay?
Khan: Okay. And what we would like [inaudible] The thought and the idea that we would have to escalate to this extent. That we had to march here in order to get your attention. That a vigil was set up. That we have been out in the cold and brutalized by these police officers, and so really, what you’re speaking to is the fact that we’ve demanded accountability. And part of that is keeping it in the public sphere, because the way that things have happened historically have not benefitted us. Any one of these police officers who are here protecting you are not invested in protecting my life.
Wynne: So, you know what? You know what? Let’s not, let’s not cast aspersions on individuals. The reality is that it’s taken awhile to get this. I didn’t have a formal request from you to meet. So I’m not making excuses—
Khogali: The reality is that they came into the space and brutalized us. They beat us and punched us and threw people close to the fire. You see what happened, this is a fact, we have documentation of it.
Wynne: So listen.
Khogali: This is what happened.
Wynne: Listen to me. It is unacceptable for anyone to be bullied or brutalized, I understand that. I did not—
Khogali: I was brutalized—
Wynne: I said, either one, either one is not okay.
Khogali: Some of us are burnt from the chemicals they threw on us.
Wynne: I am not gonna comment on specific instances. I don’t have the information. What I know is that up until this point, I haven’t had a formal request from you. I want to meet with you. And I want to get this right. The reason we’re setting up an Anti-Racism Directorate is that I believe that we still have systemic racism in our society.
Khogali: Anti-black racism.
Wynne: Well, and—
Khogali: Anti-black racism.
Wynne: Yes, anti-black—
Khogali: Thank you for saying it.
Wynne: Absolutely. Absolutely. So we need to address it.
Khan: That’s part of the reason why we’re here. Because a motion was passed, but the word “anti-black” was removed from it. Now if you’re looking at incarceration rates, if you’re looking at carding rates before we put a stop to it, along with pressure inside. If not for the pressure that we’ve applied, these things wouldn’t have happened, so our issue is not whether or not you will latently have a response but really how long this will take — we’d like a timeline. More than that, around the overhaul of the SIU, we want the inclusion of anti-black racism. Your refusal to actually name that is alarming to us, because of the rates of police brutality, because of mass incarceration, it is because it is black and indigenous people who are dying in this country and in this city.
Wynne: If you look at my comments, if you look at my comments when we set up the Anti-Racism Directorate, I specifically talked about anti-black racism. I specifically identified that as one of the issues that has not found a way and needs to be dealt with. So I’m not, I’m not arguing that.
Khogali: And so where’s the mayor in this?
Wynne: You know what, you’re gonna have to talk to the mayor. You’re gonna have to talk to the mayor. I am the premier. We have responsibility for certain parts of this. We are going to work with you. And so as I say, I’m asking you that you engage with all of our ministers.
Other voice: We don’t know if any one of these officers who are surrounding us right now actually killed [Andrew Loku, because the SIU won’t release their names].
Wynne: I am not, I am not going to speak to the specifics of our conversation. You have made some requests. We’re going to have a conversation with you about those. And we’re gonna act within the parameters that are possible. But that’s why we have to have a meeting.
Khogali: But this is our concern. This is our concern.
Wynne: We can meet, we can meet as soon as you engage, and our ministers are here. And you tell us who we, you tell us who we connect with. We’re gonna need some contact information. So that our ministers can make touch with you, okay? Alright?
Khogali: What about the timeline? What timeline are you giving us to meet?
Wynne: What I’m saying is that as soon as you can—
Khan: Are you not going to be meeting with us, Premier Wynne?
Wynne: It is public. It is public. The media cameras are on me—
Khogali: Give us a timeline.
Wynne: As soon as you can get us contact information, if that’s tomorrow—
Khan: Now. Now.
Wynne: Well, we get us the contact information, and our ministers will set up the meetings.
Other voice: While we’re here now. Can we have a meeting now? With everyone?
Wynne: I, I can’t do that. I’ve got 15 other things that I have to do right now that are on my schedule.
Khan: There is over 100 people standing out here, and this is not the most urgent thing?
Khogali: It’s not pressing?
Wynne: This is extremely pressing, which is why I’m standing here with you, which is why my ministers are standing here with you. If you get us some contact information so that we can set up a meeting, we will do that ASAP. Okay? We’ll set up those meetings today, but we need the contact information.
Khan: Let the record show that we will be following up with these people, with people who are supporters of Black Lives Matter – Toronto. We will be keeping this 100 per cent transparent, and we will fight for your ability to also be a part of the process.
Wynne: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Khan: Thank you.
Wynne: Thanks, guys. Thank you very much.
Khan (starting a chant): ‘Cause black lives, they matter here!
Crowd: Black lives, they matter here!
Speaking to reporters afterward, Khan acknowledged that while the encounter was a “very political and strategic” move on the premier’s part, it was nevertheless “a step in the right direction.”
“We don’t believe that our demands will necessarily be met now,” she said, “but we’re still gonna be advocating for them and will continue to do so, even if the premier doesn’t.”
Addressing the crowd, she looked even further into the future: “This community that we built. This radical imagining of space. This vision of change. We were able to do that in two weeks. What if we committed to this for a year?”
Across the front lawn of the provincial legislature, the amps on the bed of the pickup truck blasted Kendrick Lamar’s Alright.
Afterward, BLMTO returned to police headquarters to dismantle their encampment.
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