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Police recently informed a group of black youth who were drinking beer in the park that they would be arrested for trespass if they were ever seen at the park again. Here’s a question for the community. Should such youth be permanently excluded?
For years, some of the youth who come to the basketball court have been drinking beer at the side, or under the overhand at the side of the field house Some of them are messy and loud. Sometimes they play uncensored music on their radios. Park recreation staff tell the youth to put their beer away (it’s legal in Europe but not in Canada). The staff move the trash cans closer to the picnic tables and turn off the electrical outlets in the hydro posts so the radios have to run on (weak) batteries. They remind the youth about their language and their loudness. Park friends and staff have gone to court to follow up some of the troublemakers, and let them see that their actions are known.
At the same time, both recreation staff and park friends have been pleased to see that quite a few of these youth mellow over time, as they get jobs and families and become more mature. Some have disappeared into long-time jail but most have not. Even those who have done jail time have sometimes returned after release, older and wiser. A few have cautioned the younger guys as they arrive and the cycle starts over.
Working with youth (or any other park users) who make noise and litter and drink beer openly (and worry other park users) is an ongoing task for recreation staff, a push-and-pull not likely to end soon.
At the same time, the staff are mindful of the city’s policy against discrimination on the basis of race. For some years, the frequent police questioning and seeking of identification from youth who are black or coloured, sometimes just sitting at a picnic table without either noise or alcohol, was a concern for both park friends and park staff. Meetings with police management may have made this a bit less common. However there seems to be gulf between police and park-user perception that continues to be worrisome. Recently an officer said at a public meeting that police prefer to use bicycles at Dufferin Grove rather than driving through the park, because if the youth can see a cruiser coming, they drop their drugs and guns and can’t be charged. Other officers have said that Dufferin Grove is so dangerous that people are afraid to take their children there. This is not generally the perception of park users (Dufferin Grove is very lively with kids and families). It’s also not the perception of youth, who say they come to this park because it’s safe and they can just relax (and drink beer, and off we go again…..)
Police assertions caused park friends to go through police occurrence reports obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. These reports appear to bear out park users’ perceptions of Dufferin Grove as a generally peaceful place. The great majority of the reports were apparently random stops for “loitering” or drinking beer (see the park web site for more details). So here’s the question: do people in this neighbourhood want to clean their park by banning such people? A question that needs public discussion.
CELOS (The CEntre for LOcal research into public Space) has been attending court, to follow up on local arrests. The inspiration for this is the work of Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie. Christie says that communities are a quilt, with conflicts forming part of what may bring us together as well as what drives us apart. All neighbourhood stories are important – not only the happy ones. The local stories that CELOS court visitors are following at the moment are as follows: one woman charged with drug dealing and assault, one company charged with illegal wine selling, one man charged with the fatal stabbing of his housemate in a fight, three men charged with possession of a gun in front of a strip club, one man charged with burning trash cans and a garage last year, and one man charged with sexual assault. To find out more, go to and click on research, then on courts, then on court visits working notes.
The court visits are all downtown – a gripping drama, partly like a cattle market, partly a layered, true-life tale of suffering and endurance. Not only the victims suffer, not only the people awaiting trial in jail, not only the families of people in trouble, but also the police officers, who must sit and wait for hours sometimes, for a case that gets 2 minutes of court time, only to be postponed again.
Courtrooms are public and Toronto’s citizens can attend any case they choose, if they want to learn more about how the justice system works. But so few people go to the hearings that the judges and the crown and defense lawyers are quite evidently astonished when they find an audience of even one unrelated person.
Park friends have been following this case in court. The man is known to recreation staff, and it emerges that the woman may have been known to him. So this may not have been a random grabbing of a stranger on Dufferin Street beside the park, as had been suggested by media reports. Follow-up will continue – watch the newsletter for more of the story.
A young man was arrested by police after a midnight attack and sexual assault at the edge of the park on February 25. A woman was walking south on Dufferin Street and was grabbed and pulled into the park and assaulted there. The Toronto Sun reported that the woman managed to “steer her attacker toward a nearby shopping mall, where she knew his image would be captured.” This is puzzling, since of course the Dufferin Mall is closed by midnight, and the photo (posted at the rink house) appears to show someone inside a store.
Since then this man has been in the Don Jail. He briefly appeared in court on Wednesday March 5 and is scheduled to appear again on March 18. Park friends will follow the case to find out what happens, and report back.
Around the time of this attack, e-list moderator Erella Ganon asked people on the list whether they wanted police crime reports posted there. Quite a few comments came in, of very diverse opinions. A sample: I am a little concerned that there will be a deluge of police reports about fairly minor incidents which will, cumulatively over time, negatively colour our perceptions of the area. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.
Or the opposite view: Innocence is bliss, it is also deceiving. Being in the little bubble of safety is but a grand illusion. Although I don't want to hear about all these negative things, I want to be well informed of what's happening in my community.
The discussion is archived on the dufferinpark.ca web site, go to “police and park safety.” (See archive of discussion)
On the morning of February 7, market day, one of the park bakers was struck by the zamboni as it came off the rink toward the garage. The zamboni was traveling very slowly, and although the baker was actually pushed under the machine between the two front wheels, he was unhurt. Thankfully another rink staff alerted the driver to stop before the augur reached the baker. The problem is, zambonis are an odd shape up front and that makes it hard for the driver to see ahead. So pedestrians, take care when passing any of the three gates when the zamboni is near – remember it’s hard for the driver to see you. Also, the rink staff have put up STOP signs at each rink exit, to remind the drivers that it’s the same as crossing an intersection – you have to stop and look before you drive on. Read More
posted February 28, 2008
On February 25 and 26 2008, the moderator of the dufferingrovefriends email list service experimentally requested that a number of police notices be posted on dufferingrovefriends. Here are some of the postings and the discussion that followed.