The day Toronto police showed up at my barber to fill their cruiser with heads

Every few months at Marvel Beauty School in Yorkville, Toronto police load up on mannequin heads so the Emergency Task Force can use them for target practice

I get my hair cut at Marvel Beauty School in Yorkville. When there aren’t enough clients willing to be experimented on, the students practice cutting plastic hair on mannequin heads. 

As I was sitting there last week, two police officers came in and disappeared into a back room, emerging a few minutes later carrying large clear plastic bags stuffed with mannequin heads. 

After they carried out loads and loads of heads, I followed them outside. Their police cruiser was filled. I counted maybe 100 heads in the back seat, and as I watched, one of the officers tried to squeeze a final bag into the trunk. 

Since it’s usually serial killers who I imagine putting bags of heads into trunks, not cops, I asked, “What are these heads for?” 

“I have no idea,” replied one of the officers. “We were just sent over to pick them up.” 

I looked at the officers with a wry grin, wondering if they appreciated the incongruity of the scene. Their faces were totally devoid of emotion. 

“You really have no idea what these are for?” I asked. 

“None,” said the female officer, her expression stone-faced, as if she knew it would be unwise to say more.

Back inside, the owner told me that this was a semi-regular occurrence. 

“They come every few months,” he said, adding that he’d heard the police use the heads for target practice. 

I called Toronto police corporate communications to confirm. A spokesperson assured me that no such thing happens, but said I should try calling the Toronto Police College.  

The PR person there, also vigorously asserted that police in Toronto only use paper cutouts for target practice and never aim for the head. 

After repeated emails saying police are not at liberty to discuss the specifics of training, Toronto police spokesperson Victor Kwong (who, oddly enough, uses the Twitter handle @CopWithTheHair) finally got back to confirm that the “ETF uses them in training.”

That would be the Emergency Task Force, whose independent headquarters on Lesmill is coincidentally located immediately across the road from Moatfield Farm Park, a soccer field where Huron remains, including skulls, were discovered in 1997

The construction workers who found them inexplicably continued working at the site, but eventually sense prevailed, and work was stopped. Archaeologists contacted ancestors of the Huron to ask how to properly address the site. But some skulls had been irreparably damaged. 

According to Ron Williamson, an archaeologist who co-wrote a book about the Moatfield site, “The problem is work often goes ahead without any thought to the history of the place. So this fence post gets placed, the First Nations come out, they looked at this and [say], ‘This pierced the souls of the people here.’” 

Analysis showed that the bones were carried to the site hundreds of years earlier during a sacred ritual known as the Feast of the Dead, in which the Huron moved their ancestors’ remains to the location so they would be closer to their settlement. 

This outwardly unremarkable site has seen a stunning reversal of civilizations: where First People once interred the skulls of ancestors as a joyous public celebration of life, police bring human head look-alikes to practice killing people.

About a 10-minute walk from Moatfield Farm Park and ETF headquarters is Villaways Park, a large patch of woodland along the West Don River, a beloved place for biking, walking and picnics. 

The peacefulness of this place was shattered the night of March 13, 2016, by the death of Alex Wettlaufer, a 21- year-old former high-school classmate of my brother’s who was shot by police in the ravine. Wettlaufer lived in the public housing behind Villaways Park. 

According to reports, three officers discharged their firearms. The officers involved in the incident, whose names have not been released pending an investigation into their actions by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), reportedly included members of the ETF.

The SIU issued a statement March 14, 2016 stating that seven investigators (including three forensic investigators) had been assigned to the case. But the one-year anniversary of the shooting came and went last month without any news. No details have been released regarding where on his body Wettlaufer was shot. | @nowtoronto

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