[Hpn] OCAP/ARA watch police watch homeless
Wed, 24 May 2000 17:47:18 -0400
EYE Magazine, Toronto, May 25, 2000
Watching the detectives
Controversial Community Action
Policing program comes under citizen
BY TOM LYONS
When Community Action Policing
(CAP)was introduced to Toronto last year,
politicians promised the program would
clean up street crime in city trouble spots,
while street-level activists branded it as
little more than unconstitutional
harassment of the poor.
The debate will reopen next month, when
the CAP program commences its second year -- armed with new
powers under the province's far-reaching Safe Streets Act.
But this time, activists promise, police will come under
surveillance themselves from three different groups hoping
to turn public opinion against target-policing programs.
Last summer's CAP program was a "tremendous success," according
to its operational commander, Inspector Randal Munroe. In his
final report to the Toronto Police Services Board, Munroe says
the "pro-active" police patrols through "target areas" had
lowered crime rates, protected residents, pleased the
business community and bolstered police morale.
The report, delivered on May 1, noted that some social
agencies had complained that CAP "targeted the poor,
homeless, street youth, aboriginal and/or people facing
mental health issues."
But this "negative perception" was due to a
"misunderstanding of the program's objectives," says
Munroe's report. The poor people themselves hadn't
complained, the report said. Indeed, CAP officers had
actually "checked on the well-being of persons living
on the street."
Similarly, the "intimidating interrogation[s] and
identification checks" the advocacy groups deplored
were merely friendly "stop and chat" sessions.
Angered that their complaints about target policing were
dismissed, and furious that the evaluation of CAP was
left to CAP itself, activists are taking matters into
their own hands this summer.
Street-level "cop watches" will monitor police conduct.
At the same time, activists are pursuing a Charter challenge
against the Safe Streets Act on the grounds that it grants
unconstitutional powers to both CAP and regular police
officers to harass and imprison the poor.
Three "cop watch" programs will operate this summer, run by
Anti-Racist Action (ARA), the Ontario Coalition Against
Poverty (OCAP) and the Committee to Stop Target Policing (CSTP).
Two of the programs -- ARA's Copwatch and OCAP's Target Police
-- are new and involve street-level monitoring of police by
volunteers armed with cameras, notepads and a database of
information on officers in the downtown core (14, 51 and 52
The database has been compiled over the past three years by
OCAP members, largely from information gleaned from tickets
issued by police to street youth and the homeless. People who
receive tickets for such offences as squeegeeing, panhandling
or loitering drop them off at social-service agencies. The
tickets are generally forwarded to OCAP, or occasionally to
defence lawyers, both of whom fight the tickets in court for
"If [the police] want to bring the fight to the courtroom, we
can meet them there," says Sue Collis, an OCAP organizer.
"But we're also prepared to meet them on the street."
The group's Target Police program, she says, will be a mirror
image of the city's programs. "It's the same philosophy. They're
targeting a group of people, and we have a lot of information
about them [the police] now. We have their names, we have their
numbers. We know their shifts. We know what corners they frequent.
And they can be expected to be followed on the beat. We're
collecting photographs, so that names, numbers and photographs
will be available for public use. And we have our own list of
repeat offenders -- officers who write tickets again and again,
or who seem to track one individual and ticket them several days
in a row."
Harry Pifold, an organizer of the ARA Copwatch, says his project
will draw on the OCAP database, using some OCAP volunteers. But
he stresses that it will be modelled on ARA Copwatch programs in
"At the very least, we're going to have 50 people doing shifts
on a regular basis over the summer," says Pifold. "Each shift
will be a group of around 10 people, and there will be different
roles. The scout will ride around on a bicycle, as a lookout.
There's the role of note-taker. And we have two video cameras.
So there will be people videotaping the whole situation from
Pifold says ARA Copwatch volunteers are prepared to undergo
arrest and imprisonment, if necessary.
"In other places where cop watches have been done, the police
have gone out of their way to charge people with just about
anything," he says. "For jaywalking, for swearing in public,
for being drunk when the person isn't. Police, when they feel
threatened or confronted, often overreact. What the police
choose to charge us with is really beyond our control. And I
think there's a good possibility that we might be arrested.
But that's a risk that most of the people are willing to take."
The third police-monitoring program, the Copwatch Hotline, was
set up last fall by the Committee to Stop Target Policing in
conjunction with Parkdale Community Legal Service. The line
(531-2411 x: 263) receives complaints about police misconduct,
and will operate through the summer. A preliminary report on
calls to the hotline is tentatively scheduled for the second
week of June, to coincide with the start of this year's CAP
"It was getting more calls in the fall, and then it slowed
down," says one of the hotline co-ordinators, Samuel Godfrey,
a student lawyer at Parkdale Legal and a member of the CSTP.
"Unfortunately, it's not really representative of what's going
on out there. We got a lot of calls from people who have been
badly mistreated by the police, but they haven't been the
people we originally set out to reach -- homeless people and
squeegee youth. But it's been quite an eye-opening experience,
hearing call after call, person after person."
Target-policing programs in Ontario have a new weapon in the
Harris government's Safe Streets Act, passed in December, 1999.
The Tory law is modelled on similar legislation passed in more
than 20 American cities in the '90s. It outlaws squeegeeing
and "aggressive" begging, and was championed by police and
civic leaders, but denounced as unconstitutional by
civil-liberties groups and social activists.
Peter Rosenthal, a Toronto defence lawyer, will likely launch
the first constitutional challenge of the Safe Streets Act on
June 13, when he is scheduled to defend a client who was
charged under the Act.
"In my view, it violates a large number of sections of the
Constitution," explains Rosenthal. "The Constitution has a
division of powers between the provinces and the federal
government, which is responsible for enacting the criminal
law. And the Act is, I think, an attempt by the province to
enact criminal law, and that would be contrary to the
"Then, in my view, it violates a number of sections of the
Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It violates the right to
freedom of expression, under Section 2. It violates the
Section 7 right to life, liberty and security of the person.
And it violates Section 15, the right to equality. It's
discriminatory against poor people, in my view.
"It is a political act. And surrounding discussions suggest
that it was motivated by the government's desire to appeal to
people who find beggars distasteful. It makes it impossible
to beg in this city."
The final CAP report says the program recorded over 25,000
"stop and chats" and reports filed on pedestrians -- the
overwhelming majority of whom were not charged with any crime
-- but Rosenthal says it would be difficult to launch a
charter challenge against the practice, because it was
"What the police have going for them is that most people
don't realize their rights. If somebody in uniform comes up
and says, 'Hey, you, what's your name?' Most people think,
'Jeez, I better tell them.' But the fact is, except in certain
circumstances, you don't have to answer."
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