A small but raucous OCAP march to the Police Services Board almost seems like a doomed band of peasants marching on a citadel.
This is especially true given that the August 10 rally was organized in opposition to the increased number of police on the streets, something that a rash of gun violence has made almost sacrosanct to many.
But during a meal before the demo at All Saints Church, members of the depressed east-end community speak through a microphone of friends or relatives who've been beaten or shot by police over the years.
For the most part they do so just barely above the constant din; most in the room are inured to such stories and more interested in the food. Many are asleep, and some simply stare off into space.
For years the church has served not only as a drop-in but also as a political and social gathering place. It was recently announced that it will be shut down. As the tables are cleared, OCAP organizer Gaetan Heroux takes the mic.
"If we have money for all those new police officers, surely we have the money for decent recreation centres in Etobicoke. Certainly, we have the money to get people decent work. And certainly, we have the money to keep this place open,' he says.
As people prepare to head to City Hall, I ask him about the new anti-violence squad, TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy). "I've been here 17 years,' he says. "I've seen three special task forces. It's obvious it's not working.'
He's equally dismissive of progressive support for David Miller. "A lot of people think things have changed under Miller,' he says. "But the Safe Streets Act is still in effect. People still can't sleep in the parks. And now they can't even sleep outside City Hall any more.'
Heroux also speaks of a woman who came to OCAP for help with her ticket burden $2,200 worth of citations in four months, he says mostly for open liquor, "encumbering a sidewalk' and, most often, for littering (butting out on the sidewalk).
Activists say there's a pattern of poor folk being targeted. That may become true by default at least when the new officers being concentrated in certain neighbourhoods find there are no new rashes of shootings to investigate. Such incidents have ebbed and flowed over the city's history, with one constant under the surface a steadily declining crime rate.
Walking to the square, it almost seems like the police are making the protestors' point for them: 60 marchers on the sidewalk, 50 officers, including a phalanx of motorcycles. As the group approaches Yonge, four mounted officers appear as if by chance.
Outside City Hall, barricades are up and manned by more officers. A few yards away, another lively and seemingly oblivious Tasty Thursday is going on, with folks wandering among food stalls while folk music plays from the sound stage. I get the feeling I've got a foot in two parallel Torontos.
OCAP eventually negotiates the admittance of a handful of delegates to the Police Services Board meeting quite an accomplishment, since the group's traditional strategy seems to be everyone shouting. Almost as quickly as they're let in, they're escorted out, the shouting thing having proved irresisitable.
One wonders what utility there is in being kicked out of a board meeting. But I also wonder if there may be someone within the Hall who might be motivated, if only out of a sense of propriety, to take carriage of and translate into politics the concerns that OCAP has dutifully attempted to deliver to council for years.
Miller came to power expressing the public's concern over the police force, on a platform of making it more accountable to City Hall to which, I'm led to believe, the police are answerable. Yet he has been almost entirely absent from the civilian oversight board on which he now sits, and he presided over yet another injection into a police budget whose growth seems directly inverse to that of the crime rate.
The net value of that budget is just under three times that of the housing department and four times that of the library, and its 2006 boost is about equal to the entire budget of, say, homes for the aged.
Certainly, much of the money came in response to recent violence from the province, which cynically earmarked it only for new police. But city mandarins, so newly adept at influencing the province, didn't seem to put up much of a fight.
Someone needs to start asking these questions. Until then, city administrators are quite capable of ignoring the important questions raised by disruptive protests indefinitely. While righteous, these demos are only likely to bolster those supporting police budget quick fixes in the name of order.
Outside, OCAPer Mike Desroches is speaking through a megaphone against the mayor's new enthusiasm for police spending. "This isn't the platform from three years ago,' he says. "What happened?"
Lots of murders? Someone has waded into the crowd and is shouting back, livid. "They keep me safe!" he yells. "The police keep me safe! The police keep me safe!"
And thus continues the robust municipal dialogue on policing.