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News 2001

November, 2001

Fast-moving cars in the park (service vehicles and police cars)

There has been some unhappiness especially by parents of young children about the number of police vehicles, and to a lesser extent parks vehicles, driving fast through the park. Parks are intended to be a vehicle-free zone in which people need have no anxiety about looking out for cars. The city by-law specifies that all vehicles with business in the parks must have a person walking in front of the car, and must drive no faster than 5 m.p.h. This by-law is not usually observed by parks staff or police (and emergency vehicles driving through the park tend not to use their sirens or even flashers if they are on a hurry call). Parents of young children report that they fear for their children's safety when they see such a vehicle in the park.

November, 2001

A Police Response

In the September newsletter a letter from Nancy Winsor commented on a puzzling gun search of the regular basketball players, by police. Jutta Mason called Sergeant Bob Guglick of Fourteen Division and both Sgt.Guglick and later Constable Terry Lucko very promptly responded to her request: to find out whether there was reason to worry about criminal activities in the park. Both inquiries were very reassuring on that count: there had been no alarming park-related reports to the police that they could find in police records.

That was good news, but it raised the question of why police came several times and searched the basketball players. No arrests were made, but these searches had a strong effect on the youth. Several years of gradually increasing cooperation between the youth and park workers and other park users were undone. The youth became convinced that racial issues were at play. During one search, police told the youth that they were responding to community complaints about them being in the park too much. Since there is no law against people being in a park, Jutta Mason wrote to Superintendent Paul Gottschalk of Fourteen Division, asking to come and speak to him about such searches. He replied in a very brief letter: "I have reviewed the circumstances referred to in your letter. I am satisfied that the actions taken by 14 Division officers were appropriate and lawful." The request for a meeting was declined.

The letter is printed on the Toronto Police Service stationery, which has a motto at the bottom of every page: "To serve and protect - working with the community." Since this is one in a long series of examples when the motto seems to have been ignored, this most recent letter will need a thorough follow-up. One has the impression that objections to searches may be seen by police as a kind of "bleeding heart" liberalism. In fact such searches have practical (negative) consequences in a neighbourhood. They reduce the trust built up between different groups in the park, and therefore they reduce the harmony and good order of the park.

September, 2001

Unnecessary Calls To 911

When Clay and Paper Theatre was performing its new play, Gold, outdoors in the park on August 18, someone called 911 to report that a person was screaming and in trouble in the park and that a huge crowd was watching this. Four police cars quickly arrived, with police wearing special riot gloves. It was obvious as soon as they got there that this was a play (the "knight," Sir Gawain, had been lamenting his fate, rather loudly so the crowd could hear him -- that may have sounded like shouting). To avoid future misunderstandings, park staff will try from now on to notify police of special events happening in the park, so that their dispatchers will not be caught off guard with such false alarms.

July-August 2001

Police Issues

Some of the summer school students have a friend with a car and a loud car radio. When summer school started at St.Mary's, they adopted the habit of parking the car outside the school at 2.30 and playing loud music until 4.30-5. They sit at a picnic table nearby. Their music can be heard, very well, all over the park and all over the neighbourhood. Although for many young people such music is more beautiful than birdsong, it is not so for the people living nearby. Residents have complained to the park staff. Since this car is parked in a no parking zone, if the music continues, the police can be called and can issue tickets for illegal parking.

However, sometimes calling the police can create other problems. In early June, for example, when an argument between two female high school students ended in one stabbing the other in the shoulder with her manicure scissors, there was a huge police presence in the park as well as the neighbourhood for a few weeks. This meant a lot of cruisers driving through the park, sometimes very quickly, sometimes after dark. There was also an occasion when police came to the park because a young woman was said to be suicidal. Two cruisers and an ambulance drove up beside the playground to investigate. Then one of the cruisers got a call for a bank robbery, and so it suddenly drove so fast up the Gladstone footpath that clouds of dust were raised. On that occasion there were some frightened park users, fearing that our park is becoming unsafe for pedestrians.

This run of traffic in the park culminated one day three weeks ago in the arrival of a plain white car driving slowly around the grassed area near the basketball courts. The park staff at first thought it was a tourist car that was lost, but when they pointed out to the driver that cars were not permitted in the park, the driver said he intended to continue driving around. This gentleman looked youthful and had braces on his teeth, and the park staff considered calling the police. But then they noticed that the car had safety glass dividing the inside and that it was evidently a police car. The driver said he and his colleague had to drive around in the park that way to protect citizens against crime.

Since then, police traffic in the park has been less. Soon, a call for police assistance to deal with the loud music may be necessary. But in the interests of not creating more cruiser traffic inside the park again, Jutta Mason sent a warning first. She asked one of the music lovers to communicate to his friends that the music was too loud and too long, and that if it doesn't stop, police will be called. The short-term result was that the car drove away. Sometime just a warning is enough. If the loud music returns and the all-afternoon party starts again, the person to call is Sgt.Bob Guglick of Fourteen Division Community Response, 416/808-1500.

January, 2001

Going to court

A 1998 community crime prevention grant for Dufferin Grove Park from Ontario's Ministry of the Solicitor-General is just in its last stages. As part of this grant, recreation supervisor Tino DeCastro asked Lily Weston and Jutta Mason to follow a parks-related case through the courts. Last January, a rink guard at our nearby Wallace-Emerson rink was shot in the leg with a pellet gun. (A pellet gunshot hurts but doesn't go very deep, unless it hits the eye.) A large number of young men were present but the shot was fired from behind, so the rink guard didn't know who shot him. However, when the police arrived, one of the young men was found with a pellet gun in his possession. He also turned out to be in violation of a previous probation order prohibiting him from being on the rink property. (It's not the practice of either court or police to make community centre staff aware of such a ban, so the young man had been frequently at the rink with his friends, without the staff being aware that he was banned.) The group of young men been intimidating staff and users at Wallace-Emerson Rink for some years, and this pellet-gun incident made things even worse.

The young man was in jail for 14 days before he got bail. Since then, Lily and Jutta went to ten (10) two-minute court appearances, about one a month, in the "set-date" court, Room 111, at Old City Hall. Each of the ten times the setting of a court date was postponed again, for a large variety of reasons. Then two weeks ago the young man pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon and breach of probation and was sentenced to do some community hours.

Besides going to court and watching the stream of people who are processed (and postponed) there, Lily and Jutta went to see various judges, probation officers, crown attorneys, and lawyers. We wanted to promote the general priniciple that offenses committed in public space have a particular effect on neighbourhoods and should get some special attention. We suggested that if community service hours are ordered as a consequence of an offense committed in a park, whenever possible the community service placement should also be in a park. That way the offender would make amends for damage and threats, and the park staff could form a (hopefully constructive) relationship with the offender that might result in some learning and some loyalty.

Although some of the people in the justice system with whom we spoke were very kind, and they thought our ideas made some sense, we never had the feeling that there was any real point of entry where community concerns could get "standing." The crown said we should work more closely with police, the police said we should wait for the trials, lawyers didn't have time to talk to us, and judges said that they won't specify a placement when they sentence offenders, but that we should ask the probation people. The probation officer in this case now told us we should have made our requests prior to sentencing, which we had done but the crown didn't bring up our requests at the trial….around and around in circles we went. Our community-as-victim "impact statements" in this case seem to have been largely ignored. Most recently, the probation officer told us that it's really up to the Salvation Army (as the government's community-service-hours broker) to decide where the hours are served, and that licking envelopes at the downtown Red Cross is just as appropriate as having the offender work with us in the park. The important thing is doing the math: making sure that the right number of hours are served.

We disagree, of course, but despite our many appointments and our close following of this case, it's unclear whether our efforts to have offenders in public space serve their community service hours in a way that relates to their offense - and to the community where the offense took place - will bear fruit anywhere. This is particularly unfortunate because the offender in this case (like many offenders with whom we work at the park) shows good qualities as well as troubles, and the links park staff make with young people like him can have longer-term good consequences all round. No new program is needed here, but it looks like the turf in the justice system is too sharply divided at present to make intelligent use of the community resources already in place.

The subject of the legal system and safety in public space will be the third in the series of CELOS booklets, put out with the help of the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor-General and the G.H.Wood Foundation. Entitled, Whose conflict is it, anyway?, the booklet is scheduled to come out in spring. As well, Jacqueline Peeters, a final-year law student who was very involved at Dufferin Grove Park four years ago, is researching law pertaining to public space. If any park users have experience in this area, please call her at 534-8123, or e-mail her at j.peeters@utoronto.ca.

posted January 15, 2001

Police Responses To Park Calls 1999-2000

In the fall of 2000, we got a comment from a staff sergeant at Toronto Police, Fourteen Division, saying that Fourteen Division spent a lot of time responding to requests for help from our park and nearby Wallace-Emerson Park (i.e. suggesting park calls were somewhat of a pain in the neck). This hurt our feelings, so we went over our log book, to check how often park workers had called police and how police had responded. Here's the list of every call we made in 1999-2000. (Since that time we've rarely called police, but tried to rely on community help when there's a problem of public order.)

July 26, 1999
: An outdoor-theater rehearsal was seriously disrupted by a disorderly group of drinkers, one of whom threatened park staff. Police were called. The drinkers left an hour later and the police arrived after an hour and a half.

November 7, 1999
: After a week when the fire department was called to the park three times to put out illegal campfires, police were called to another illegal campfire. Police responded within 20 minutes, put the fire out and talked to the youth. There were no more illegal campfires that fall.

November 13, 1999
: I came upon a large group of youth vandalizing the playground area late at night. When I shouted at them to stop, they threatened to beat me up, so I went home and called police. The police came and questioned one person but did not lay a charge. At the request of the Parks Department, they later obtained a statement from me and from the park supervisor and then returned to that young man's house and charged him with mischief. This charge was subsequently mislaid in a drawer by a detective, and therefore did not get to court. I was called by P.C. Bob Patterson on August 8 2000 (9 months later), to inform me of this fact, and notify me that the charge would now be laid anew, as an indictable offense. But when P.C. Patterson found out that the suspect had recently done court-ordered community service, on an unrelated conviction, at the park, he said that we no longer had a case (since he could no longer use a photo-lineup to get an identification of the suspect from me). Although I agreed to this, the Parks Department did not, and notified Supt.Gottschild of their wish to have the charge laid again. Their letter has received no reply to date (2 months).

January 11, 2000
: Police were called to the Wallace-Emerson Community Centre ice rink because 8-10 youth at the rink were armed with sticks and bats and were discussing a planned attack on other youth behind the Dufferin Mall. Youth at Dufferin Rink were also heard discussing the plan. Police came to Wallace Rink and simply told the youth to go home.

January 20, 2000
: Police were called to Wallace Rink because a rink guard was shot in the leg with a pellet gun and the area supervisor's car window was shot out at the same time. A suspect was arrested. At the request of the area supervisor, a park staff member and I have followed this person through eight court appearances, with still no trial date set. The last two postponements were because the lawyer says there have been three different police officers in charge of this case and he cannot discover who is currently in charge. When the park's area supervisor tried to find out who is the officer-in-charge he also was unable to get an answer from Fourteen Division.

February 2, 2000
: Police were called to Dufferin Rink by the rink supervisor because a group of belligerent youth were refusing a staff order to leave the rink. After an hour the rink supervisor left and so did the youth. A police officer arrived after an hour and a half and requested a statement from me, because I was there working at the snack bar. He also requested my date of birth. When I declined to give it, he said we could not expect future police cooperation if I acted like that.

May 11, 2000
: Police met with city staff to discuss improvement of park/police co-operation around problems in parks and rinks. Outcome: suggestion that P.C.Terry Lucko would come and discuss specifics with park staff. The park supervisor called P.C. Lucko to arrange a meeting but has had no call back to date (3 months).

July 28, 2000
: Police were called to remove a delusional, destructive person on a trespass letter and issue a ticket. They removed him but issued no ticket.

August 10, 2000
: Police were called to remove the same person again. No sign that they came. The person continued to come to the park and vandalize the park washroom. As a result the park washroom was out of order and closed for most of the summer. This was a problem because of record numbers of people attending park events and programs this past summer. Also the parks department spent more than $1400 fixing the damage before they decided to close down the washroom.

September 3, 2000
: Police received at least two 911 calls in connection with group violence toward a person being kicked and beaten on the ground near the basket ball court. One police car, a fire engine and an ambulance responded. The ambulance took the person to St.Michael's Hospital. When park staff called to find out what happened, they heard through our city councillor that the police had no record of the case. Further community inquiries produced the information that the victim refused to lay a charge and that's why there was no follow-up. A neighbourhood letter with specific questions about the way this incident was handled, to Superintendent Gottschalk, has received no answer from him to date.

posted posted March 1, 2004, published July 20, 2001

Growing Vegetables and Shooting Hoops

How local youth relate - separate but together
"Facts and Arguments" as published in The Globe and Mail July 20 2001.

I spend a lot of time in my neighbourhood park in downtown Toronto, mostly working in the gardens or baking at the outdoor wood-fired oven there. Over the years I've met many young people who also spend a lot of time at the park, playing basketball or just 'chilling' with their friends. Sometimes those young folks have done odd jobs for the park, baking at the oven or cleaning up the park or helping out with community campfires.

People often ask me, has the behaviour of young people in the park altered in response to being involved in these activities? Has it “rehabilitated” young people who formerly made trouble? The short answer is, yes, I guess so. Certainly we now have very little damage (graffiti, vandalism) in the park, and there seems to be a code, more or less adhered to, of minimizing fights in the park. ("We don't fight here and we don't let other people come and fight here. We help keep this park safe." That's their theory, and while not strictly adhered to by everyone, it more or less carries the day.)


The longer answer is complicated. The young people who come and hang around, particularly in the proximity of the basketball court and the bread ovens and the fire circle, have a strong sense of themselves as a separate culture, insiders with everyone else on the outside. In that way their sense of themselves is parallel with many other people who use the park, e.g. the middle class older folks who have a strong sense that we are the insiders, the legitimate people who behave well.

The sharp separations mean that if the older folks in the park come and try to act friendly with the young guys, they are often rebuffed, sometimes very rudely. The young guys tell them to get lost, and the older folks are shocked and appalled at their manners. There continues to be a lot of pretty graphic swearing, and if we hadn't disconnected the electrical power outlet near the basketball courts, we would still be hearing a lot of uncensored music that blasts out rape-and-violence songs across the park. There is a fondness for the "ghetto" look -- lots of litter and periodic binges of breaking glass. This kind of stuff is cyclical, but not much under the control of parks staff or other park users.

The various social circles that form around the bake ovens or the campfire circle (this includes the outdoor music and theatre rehearsals that are often in our park, usually also near the ovens), are so near the basketball court that the different scenes can't help but overlap. The cooking fires/ ovens were added after the young guys had established themselves, and were located nearby. The overlap grates continually, because of the forced proximity of unmatching groups. Neither side chooses to be near the other, but the young guys very much want the basketball court and the older people (and their little kids) very much want the cooking fires. Or the older people very much want the fresh air of their evening walk through the park (some of the most beautiful flowerbeds are also near this part of the park) and the young guys very much want their evening campfire, to drink at and maybe roast hot dogs. So they are constantly forced into each other's grating presence.

This "grating" is actually rather productive, even if sometimes painfully so. I learned the usefulness of such proximity from a wonderful essay written by the Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie. The essay is called "Conflict as Property," and it treats conflict as a precious, practical resource to a community for summoning up the gifts of the people who live there. Christie wrote about the theft of this resource by lawyers, courts and so on, who take conflict out of a community and thereby preventordinary people from behaving with courage and generosity and ingenuity -- important practical forms of spiritual exercise.

So: a week ago I was working in the vegetable garden beside the ovens and some of the young people were having a loud, scary discussion relating to sex and prison life, and involving a lot of graphic cursing. Neither of us could move to a different location, so there we were: me with my spade and they with their stories, a very light rain falling on us both. I was forced to listen to things I would never have to listen to inside my house, inside my own social class, and they were forced to get intermittent glares from me. Eventually (after quite a while), the talk modified, toned down a bit, then stopped.

I saw some of them again the day after. I was revolted with them, and they were hostile to me, the middle-aged lady mixing into their business. But I had a pizza-making group to attend to at the outdoor oven, and they had to play basketball, so we were forced to stay near each other. Some of the older children in the pizza-making group went to watch the basketball, and then they got their turn at one of the hoops and began to play too. One of the basketball players came over and played with them, because, he told me, kids like to play with a bigger guy, it makes them feel big. The parents at the oven were all busy talking to each other, and there was nothing about the scene to worry them. The usual swearing almost stopped, because of the code of not swearing near young children, but the basketball went on and the drinking went on and the pizza-making went on. Everybody was having a good time.

At some point well into the evening one of the young guys walked by and said some friendly remark, and I noticed I wasn't angry anymore. There was such a pleasing, even joyful, normalcy about the scene that I couldn't feel anymore, as on the day before, that the end of civilized society had arrived.

So: who was rehabilitated? Are the shocked older people like me also in need of rehabilitation, or in need of forgiveness, for all the unfair advantages we routinely gain for ourselves and our group, and which we may try to explain away by pointing to the bad behaviour of others outside our group? Who knows? What I think I know is that there have to be standards, and that in cities like this one people have to learn to work out the standards across different groups, and that this work, ideally, is continually in progress and needs proximity. The campfires and bake oven in our park are an interesting, continuous prompt for such proximity. For me, sometimes, such proximity makes me delight in the lively, quirky existence of people quite unlike me. On good days, they do me the honour of delighting in me as well.

Jutta Mason

Content last modified on May 17, 2008, at 07:45 PM EST