Toronto police board reviewing controversial officers program in schools amid heated debate
Amara McLaughlin, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, May 23, 2017 11:08PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 23, 2017 11:20PM EDT
The Toronto Police Services Board is on the verge of suspending the School Resource Officer program – which stations uniformed officers in Toronto-area schools – at its meeting Tuesday, pending further consultation with community and education stakeholders.
The board put the controversial motion over until next month’s meeting after Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders urged caution, stressing the importance of public consultation.
“In this particular case, it’s the ability to listen to everybody,” Saunders said. “If we want to get this right, we have to listen to everybody and not just sections of them, so we’re looking at doing that and making sure we make the right decision.”
This decision responded to an agenda item calling for a review of the school officer program, which has not been conducted for six years, follows a lengthy and heated debate about the program.
More than 30 officers have been stationed at 75 schools across the city since 2008, which is funded by a federal grant.
An interim report on the review, being conducted by Ryerson University, is due in August.
‘Program has to end’
At the meeting, dozens of deputations were heard, in which speakers told the board the presence of armed, uniformed officers in schools criminalized marginalized students.
Desmond Cole, an outspoken activist of police conduct in the city, called for change despite the outcome from the board vote.
“We have seen over the years that it has targeted the most vulnerable kids in our schools,” Cole said. “The police program, to have cops stations in our schools has targeted black kids, indigenous kids, it’s targeted kids with disabilities, it’s targeted kids without immigration status who are afraid to even walk through the halls because they don’t want to have a confrontation with a police officer.
“It’s very clear this program has to end.”
In between now and next month's meeting, we must raise our voices against police in schools. Let's do this for our children and youth!— Desmond Cole (@DesmondCole) May 23, 2017
‘We need to make time to talk about these issues’
Earlier this month, Black Lives Matter Toronto staged a walkout, in response to a report from a York University professor that revealed a large number of black students are streamed into applied instead of academic programs and they are suspended at substantially higher rates.
Throughout the protest, the advocacy group laid out its demands for changes to what they say is “anti-black racism” in the education system.
It demanded six specific changes to the primary and secondary education systems in the Greater Toronto Area, including everything from implementing anti-black racism training at all levels of Toronto-area school boards and creating an advisory board of black parents.
One of those was to eliminate the Schools Resource Officers programs.
“Black children have a really rough time in school,” said Black Lives Matter Toronto organizer Sandy Hudson told CP24 on May 1. “We need to make time to talk about these issues and address them.”