Let's hope that chief Julian Fantino's recently promised mother of all crackdowns on crime doesn't turn into a frenzy to toss in jail or shift to the next neighbourhood anyone unsightly enough to offend. In some parts of this city still reeling from the murder of Holly Jones, it doesn't take much to whip up the kind of hysteria that was in evidence two weeks back at an event sponsored by the Cabbagetown South Residents Association.
About 20 outraged members of the group showed up at the corner of Dundas and Ontario in a campaign billed as the start of a "clean-up" of the neighbourhood. Picket signs in hand, they marched down the side streets looking for criminals, drug addicts and the like and seem disappointed not to run into the local dealers, their sworn enemies.
Some were decked out in newly printed Community Response Against Crime T-shirts. That spells CRAC. ***
Tonight they're being led by Pierre Klein, a co-founder of the group and former Caledon and Peel region councillor who's hoping to turn this law- and-order sortie of his into a successful run for city council this fall in the same area. His goal: more cops, more money for cops, faster trials and an overhaul of the homeless shelter system. His pet peeve is a faulty police staffing formula that he says "discriminates" against Cabbagetown and is "wholly inadequate" when it comes to dealing with "lawlessness." We're talking about a heavily policed neighbourhood. But Klein figures that if more residents call to report "crime," more police will be assigned to the streets. So he says he's been told. "We are unfortunately not making enough calls," he says.
Over at police headquarters, Sergeant Jim Muscat says later that many other factors besides the number of calls go into the deployment of police. "We encourage people to call when they see a crime being committed," Muscat says. "But to what extent it matters (when it comes to assigning police), I don't know."
No matter. Klein has his cellphone out, calling cops about a homeless-looking couple sharing a bottle in a nearby park. Several other members of the crowd also phone the police on their cells. The couple make incoherent statements of protest and then go back to their drink. CRAC is undeterred. Its media package makes references to its efforts to persuade the local Business Improvement Area to hire private security if more cops are not assigned.
The kit also includes "resident journals" that log, in minute-to-minute detail, incidents of nighttime shouting and harassment by "criminals," "crazies" and "crack hookers." Members of the group are encouraged to stay up all night and log incidents.
"Loud banging on my street door accompanied by incoherent screaming," notes one entry. "I opened my curtain and stared briefly at a crack hooker... I don't have direct evidence of this, but she was extremely skinny, twitching mightily and very grubby-looking." And later, "The policewoman I spoke to knew right away who I was and was quite sarcastic, giving me the idea they don't take these problems of mine very seriously." ***
Earlier this year, Klein organized The People's Forum, a summit of residents' groups. In Peel, Klein supported the Tories' elimination of rent controls, which some blame for exacerbating homelessness. He also made an unsuccessful federal run with the Liberal Party. Councillors Pam McConnell and Kyle Rae remember Klein for the fight he led against setting up local refugee and transitional housing centres.
Klein says he supports a change in the shelter system that would see more low-cost housing. It's unclear how that meshes with his other policies. "If he's a Liberal, he's a very right-wing Liberal," says Rae.
Some peculiar supporters, however, are gravitating toward Klein, including local NDP provincial candidate Gene Lara. "We need to have more police in 51 Division," Lara says. "That's the way to shoo away the bad guys. (The NDP's) not soft on this. We're very concerned."
Six weeks earlier, Lara spoke at a meeting hosted by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), an organization whose relationship with the police could be described as extremely adversarial at best. The message from other speakers that day couldn't have been more different - activists complained about police harassment of the poor and homeless, too many police and a lack of constructive solutions.