Toronto police silent on spitting incident in meeting with LGBTQ community

Snub follows protest at police board meeting over cops' handling of altercation caught on video that critics say is another example of “how badly the police are interacting with queer, street-involved and racialized communities.”

On January 26, the Transformational Task Force released its final report, Action Plan: The Way Forward, at the monthly Toronto Police Services Board meeting. 

But before it could be debated, protesters with Queers Crash the Beat (QCB) disrupted the proceedings, calling on police to conduct a full investigation into a tasering incident caught on video involving a man of no fixed address. One of the protest organizers, who goes by the name Mikiki, called the arrest another example of “how badly the police are interacting with queer, street-involved and racialized communities.” In the video, an officer from 51 Division can be seen saying to Waseem Khan, who was filming the altercation on his cellphone, “He’s going to spit in your face and you’re going to get AIDS.”

The comment has drawn widespread criticism, including from Mayor John Tory, who told reporters in a statement outside the board meeting that it was “ignorant and offensive.”

“I want people to understand I completely reject that kind of comment being made, by a police officer or anybody else,” Tory said.

Chief Mark Saunders has since asked for a “thorough investigation.” But whether a commitment to also provide sensitivity training officers on issues around HIV/AIDS will happen force-wide, remains unclear. 

An officer from 51 Division has reached out to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network to start a conversation about officers from that division receiving training, the Network’s executive director, Richard Elliott, tells NOW. The police request was made in response to CHLN posts on social media saying the organization is “ready and willing” to provide training.

“It’s an encouraging sign,” says Elliott, but “the follow-through will be key – what the training looks like, how it rolls out, [and] whether it rolls out to all police officers. These things are still to be seen.”

Any training would have to involve more than the basics, Elliott says. “The video raised a slew of human rights issues.” Among them: how police handle privacy issues when interacting with people living with HIV/AIDS stereotypes and assumptions surrounding HIV/AIDS and stigma associated with poverty and drug use, as well as potential racism.

There is a precedent for such training. In November 2013, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) released a best practices document on policing in LGBTQ communities. It recommends that forces establish guidelines for police to follow when handling matters that involve HIV/AIDS.

According to that report, training on HIV/AIDS “help ensure that police services have a full understanding of the science related to HIV, the social context of living with HIV and the specific challenges encountered by women and particular communities vulnerable to HIV.”

Training and guidelines for police on dealing with people living with HIV are also recommended by international organizations like the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

A community meeting at the 519, led by Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam on the same day the Transformational Task Force released its report, was attended by officers from the force, including LGBTQ liaison Constable Danielle Bottineau. The officers declined, however, to engage in any discussion of the tasering incident, or anything else. 

Wong-Tam says the meeting, which was organized last month, wasn’t specifically to address the tasering incident. Rather it was an opportunity for members of the LGBTQ community to get together and air their safety concerns. “My own desire was to have the police speak to the issues that were directly related to their service delivery,” she says.

For some at the meeting, the officers’ conduct made it hard for the community to take seriously police pledges to dialogue, as outlined in the Transformational report. 

“The police were literally in the room and unwilling to talk to community folks about issues that are relevant,” says Rodney Rousseau, a PhD candidate in immunology at University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. To add insult, the monthly Coffee With Cops gathering at the Second Cup in the gay village was also quietly cancelled that same day. 

Ferdinand Ngo, a member of the RUDE Collective, argues that without a two-way conversation, it’s hard to put faith in the police promise that a thorough investigation of the taser incident will take place. 

Calls by NOW to 51 Division and Constable Bottineau requesting comment have gone unanswered. | @nowtoronto

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