Carding and “Canadian values”: will the real Andy Pringle please stand up?

Supporting Kellie Leitch's Conservative Party leadership bid does not align with the values the Toronto Police Services Board chair espoused to me at the height of the storm around racial profiling

Years before I would meet Toronto Police Services Board chair Andy Pringle, I knew of his excellent reputation in the Upper Canada College (UCC) community.  

I was 11 years old and soon to enter ninth grade. Concerned I was not being sufficiently challenged at school, my mother insisted that I apply to a large number of Toronto’s best private high schools. A public school teacher, and a Jamaican immigrant who was part of the first generation in her family to attend university, she has always been a true believer in the power of education.

And so, despite the fact that we couldn’t possibly afford the cost of tuition, she scraped together the money for the entrance exams and I applied to UCC. 

One day I came home from school, and a big envelope was sitting on the kitchen table. I had aced the entrance exams and the interviews and had been accepted. More importantly, my tuition (some $100,000 over four years) would be almost entirely covered thanks to the generosity of a family who’d established a scholarship in their son’s name. I sat staring at the information packet, my stomach in knots with a mix of excitement and trepidation. I still have that admission packet and the acceptance letter signed by Andrew Pringle, chair of the Board of Governors, UCC. 

Andrew Pringle is a leader in a community that I love, and it was that reputation that led me to reach out to him through a fellow UCC alumnus at the height of the storm around police racial profiling and carding last year. 

Alok Mukherjee was on his way out and Pringle was the odds-on favourite to be the new chair. I thought our UCC connection could help find some sliver of common ground in the ongoing debate around carding. At the very least, I hoped to get the measure of the man who plays a vital role in overseeing policing in the city.

He generously cleared two hours out of his schedule for me. He spoke with refreshing candor about his hopes for policing in Toronto, in marked contrast to his good friend, Mayor John Tory, who was unwilling or unable to take a coherent position on carding, despite his characterization of the practice as “corrosive.”

We talked about fairness, equality and community building and he spoke at great length about the need for what he called “bias-free” policing. I shared some of my own first-hand experience with police harassment, including a story from my UCC days.

It was my first year. I was walking to school. I was stopped by two police officers – me a 90-pound, 12-year-old kid – and forced to empty the contents of my backpack on the sidewalk to prove that I attended Upper Canada College because I looked “lost” in the affluent neighborhood. It would be the first, unfortunately, of many similar encounters in my lifetime with police.  

Pringle and I disagreed on a great many things, but we also found common ground on a number of issues I was not expecting.

I left our meeting convinced that, at the very least, he was committed to the idea of building bridges between communities in both his position as chair of the TPSB and personally.  I believed that Pringle meant what he said about being mindful of bias, and about dialogue between disparate groups in our city. I believed him because he told me so to my face. 

Which is why I was alarmed to find out this week that while Mr. Pringle has been serving as chair of the TPSB, he has actively been supporting and fundraising for federal Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate, Kellie Leitch.

From her proposal to screen immigrants for “Canadian values,” to her Barbaric Cultural Practices snitch line, Leitch advocates for codifying full-throated, unapologetic bias. Leitch does not seek to build bridges. She seeks to exploit fear and ignorance for political gain.

Pringle’s ties to her are especially worrisome when considered alongside the very delicate issue of policing in a diverse city like Toronto, where police bias and misconduct have severely damaged public trust.

Supporting Leitch does not align with the values Pringle espoused to me, nor does it align with UCC’s values. 

The UCC community believes that he who merits it shall win the prize. Not he who was born in the right country. Not he whose daddy has the right securities portfolio. And not he whose last name puts “old stock” Canadians at ease. 

Xenophobia, racism and fear of the other are the most anti-Canadian values of all. As a Torontonian, as an immigrant, as a member of the Black community, and as a proud UCC “Old Boy,” I wonder if Andy Pringle still believes that. Will the real Andy Pringle please stand up?

Jared A. Walker works as a Communications and PR professional in the non-profit sector. He served as the New York State Coordinator of Students for Barack Obama during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. | @nowtoronto

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