We're west of Bloor and Lansdowne, outside the Club Paradise strip joint. People are yelling at MPP Tony Ruprecht, who's leading a community tour, and the police superintendents with him. It's hard for me to dredge up much sympathy for one of the few provincial Tories to run disguised as a Liberal. Still, I wish the OCAP supporters would let him speak. It's not that I respect the man, or that I disagree with the shouts calling for strippers' rights. It's just that if folks would stop trying to humiliate Ruprecht for a minute he'd be quite happy to do it himself. As a journalist, I wait for moments like this: the incumbent's about to go all family values on a strip club when a similar operation has turned out to be one of his financial contributors. (See below.)
But shouts of hypocrisy and police brutality in 14 Division are obviously cutting too close, and we're hurried off to a walking tour of back alleys, for I don't know what for. Maybe some of those present have never seen one.
This strange tour seems to be what happens when people wait for political candidates to organize their "community" meetings. One almost gets the sense that "the community" is together in this, since prostitutes or addicts apparently don't count. One participant whom Ruprecht frequently addresses by his first name suggests busing all the street people out of the city. "It's our community. Majority rules," the man says.
By the end, I find myself more sympathetic to the aims of the gathering than I'd expected - people are scaring me, cops are making sense. ("You can't just put everyone in jail. And even if you did it wouldn't solve a thing.") Problem is, a police honcho's sociology credits aren't necessarily transferred to the constables in his charge, and all these scary "community" folks are going home to be my neighbours.
When I look over my shoulder these days, it isn't for an addict wielding a knife, it's for a homeowner wielding middle-class prejudice and a camera.
Someone actually hands the police a book of photographs of "suspicious" people hanging out on the street. Now, look. We all like a nice cadre of unelected vigilantes, but this isn't exactly the Justice League here. How long until "loose morals" gets you on a list? Scruffy attire and an NDP lawn sign? Don't even think about an OCAP flag.
"If they're caught doing anything, they should just be kicked out," I overhear a man saying to his wife. "Not allowed to be here."
"What if they live here?" I ask. He shrugs. "They can't come back."
"It's tricky," a more reasonable neighbour comments. "There are a lot of valid concerns here." Indeed - break-ins have happened, and there's really nothing good to say about crack dealers. But few of those in attendance are willing to plumb the depths of the urban condition. To get elected, Ruprecht only has to tell people what they want. But if we'd walked a few blocks east, we would have found what we need.
Dufferin Grove Park is a response to the same concerns Ruprecht is corralling and tossing in his vote oven. The Friends of Dufferin Grove Web site is a case study in community-driven solutions. It gives advice on how to deal with vandalism by providing alternative spots for graffiti or creating space for people otherwise seen as "trouble" to become part of the park. It reminds me of a high school friend's mother - the "cool" mom who would let us drink. "Better you do it here than out on the street," she would say.
I ask Ruprecht how he expects increased policing to do much beyond cover up social problems. He nods and says enthusiastically that it has to be matched with more social programs. I reply that I'm glad to hear him say policing is a last resort. "Oh," he says with a slight grin, "for these people it's a first resort." As it turns out, there will be programs for people - once they're tucked neatly away in jail.
"I mean, you're absolutely right. They need help," says Ruprecht. "I feel sorry for a lot of the creeps running around here. Some of them aren't even human beings any more."
Nearby, a man is shouting about how arrests only target people of a certain class. Another man shouts back that, no, the problem is that people are arrested at the symptom end, not the cause. They shout at the same time, right over their similarities. Things wind down into a street-corner discussion (which could stand being repeated, minus the social Darwinism). Folks on all sides see the shadows their politics cast. I just hope no one thinks Ruprecht did this for us. We made this little neighbourly conclave start to work; he's just going to put the photos in his propaganda.