Meet the faces of Toronto’s Black Lives Matter tent city

We talked to five people who’ve been part of Black Lives Matter – Toronto’s protest outside police headquarters since March 20. Here are their stories


For two weeks, members of Black Lives Matter – Toronto have camped outside the Toronto Police Services headquarters. Their protest began on March 20 in response to a lack of criminal charges against the police officer who shot and killed Andrew Loku in 2015, and the refusal of Ontario Special Investigations Unit to release the name of that officer.

Establishing BLMTO “tent city,” organizers released a set of demands directed at Mayor John Tory and Police Chief Mark Saunders. In addition to police accountability for Loku’s death, it includes releasing the name of the police officer involved in the 2014 shooting death of Jermaine Carby in Brampton and an overhaul of the Ontario SIU. A separate request to restore Afrofest to a two-day festival was approved a few days later.

Despite an early attempt by police to dismantle BLMTO tent city, protestors remained at the scene and have since been joined by thousands of supporters. Members of Black Lives Matter from across the U.S. were present at the tent city, as were allies representing indigenous groups, student organizations and more.

When NOW stopped by on April 1, the message we heard was loud and clear: this is a historic moment that’s as much about community and solidarity as it is about confronting anti-black racism in Canada. We spoke in-depth with five people present at BLMTO tent city that day. Read their stories below.

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Tanja-Tiziana

Name: Adabu Jefwa

Age: 24

Home: West End, Toronto

Occupation: Community organizer, DJ, George Brown College student

When did you arrive at tent city: March 20

Why are you here: I’m here to fight for the freedom and justice of black folks and the liberation of all racialized and oppressed peoples. There’s no defined time of when we will be leaving as far as I know. Fight the power.

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Tanja-Tiziana

Name: Christina Gabriella Griffin

Age: 28

Home: Los Angeles, California

Occupation: Black Lives Matter U.S. organizer

When did you arrive at tent city: March 28

Why are you here: What is happening here is historic. They set up tent city, cops came out here fucking with them trying to get them to move, and they didn’t. That’s magic. That’s everything. That’s so inspiring. Within the States, we folks in the Black Lives Matter movement, we are all doing this together, encouraging one another. So when we heard about what was going on, a call to action went out to all Black Lives Matter, and folks who could make it came.

The action I want to see is for the demands of Black Lives Matter – Toronto to be met by the city of Toronto. I want what anybody else wants: the dismantlement of capitalism, end of racism, sexism, transphobia and for people to really acknowledge that there’s an actual problem of anti-blackness that exists.

The folks of Toronto have spoken and are not being heard. It’s bullshit. It’s terrible, and I know Black Lives Matter – Toronto is not going to stop. They’re going to continue get support from everywhere. Toronto and other cities need to know that if your police force is committed to an anti-black program, there’s going to be more tent cities. As long as the killing keeps going on, we’re going to be out here. It’s inspiring to me as an organizer, as a black woman and as someone within my generation. Everyday I got to sleep out here, I was adding to history. I was being apart of history. This is historic.

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Tanja-Tiziana

Name: Jessica Kirk

Age: 21

Home: North York

Occupation: VP (and incoming president) for University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Students’ Union. Part-time psychology student.

When did you arrive at tent city: March 20

Why are you here: This is something that impacts me as a black woman and the black community, which I’m apart of. Because I can so easily identify my family members, my friends and my community members that are impacted by state violence, by anti-black racism, it’s something that personally touches me. On top of that, it’s a responsibility as a member of the Toronto community to stand in solidarity with people who are impacted by anti-black racism and police brutality.

I’m in full support of the work that Black Lives Matter has been doing since the beginning. They’ve put a lot of work into what demands are priorities to the black community and set really great direction, and it’s just a matter of standing in support of the work that they do.

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Tanja-Tiziana

Name: D!ONNE Renée

Age: old enough to know better and too young to care

Home: Toronto

Occupation: Public advocate. Toronto mayoral candidate in 2014.

When did you arrive at tent city: March 23

Why are you here: My presence here is to encourage and empower the people who are here, the community that comes together. What I’m loving about this is the community at large is being empowered seeing what’s going on and getting excited. Look at the love that’s shared here. There’s all different groups of people from different backgrounds coming here. People are bringing food, people are donating, people are staying overnight. They’re holding down the fort to say, hey listen, black lives matter and it matters to everyone.

People have to have a voice and be heard. There’s a difference between just listening to people and actually hearing them. When you hear, you have to do something. You can’t just be watching and doing nothing. Government needs to remember they’re representing the voice of the people, not the other way around. They’re there to hear the people and act on behalf of the people.

This is about community coming together so that the issues brought forward by Black Lives Matter can be heard. It’s not about just existing anymore. It’s about living and thriving.

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Tanja-Tiziana

Name: Rajean Hoilett

Age: 23

Home: Born in Scarborough, lives on the Danforth

Occupation: Social work student at Ryerson University, chair person of Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario

When did you arrive at tent city: March 20

Why are you here: I’m one of the people on the night shift, so I stay awake throughout the night to make sure that people are safe.

I think the last couple of weeks, months and year has been very difficult for black folks in this city following the killing of Andrew Loku. A lot of people were very devastated. I was at the vigil that Black Lives Matter – Toronto held for him near his house and the community where he was shot. I think we’ve continued to see officers act with violence upon our community, and that’s what’s driven me to be here. It could very easily be me, or another black person in the streets, or my younger brother or cousin. I think that what we’re building here is incredibly important. There’s so much violence and anger and hate, but we’ve been able to carve out a space in our community that looks like love, that looks like people holding each other up.

I’m going to be here until the community decides we don’t need to be here anymore. I think that it is shameful that we live in a city and a province where thousands of people have come to this space and have support this space, yet we still haven’t heard anything from the premiere. We haven’t heard anything from the mayor, and I think that we’re going to continue to be here to continue to put pressure and make ourselves visible. Our organizing and our activism will live beyond this action. 

michelled@nowtoronto.com | @michdas

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