TAVIS – Another Viewpoint.

A disturbing incident came to my attention yesterday.

A friend of mine, let’s call him Bruce, is a keen wildlife photographer. Bruce was in Lions Park by the Humber footbridge last Thursday, intent on photographing an elusive heron. Four young men walked by and two of the men got chatting to Bruce and eventually asked him if he would take their photograph and email it to them. As the two and Bruce gathered around the camera to see the image, there was a sudden skidding sound as six police officers on bikes (from the TAVIS program) swooped down and surrounded them. They asked ‘What’s going on?’ and searched one of the young men and his backpack, finding a tiny quantity of marijuana. He was arrested and placed in handcuffs. Meanwhile, the other young man became indignant at this breach of Charter rights and voluntarily stripped to his underwear in frustration and to demonstrate that he had nothing to hide.

The attention then turned to Bruce who was asked by one of the officers ‘What exactly are you photographing?’ Bruce felt intimidated by the officer, the question, and indeed the whole incident – and feared for his own personal safety if he said anything or intervened to protest the treatment of the young man. He had the impression that this was a way of filling an arrest quota. As if the six officers weren’t enough to keep order, a seventh arrived, also on a bike. Bruce beat a hasty retreat.

Apparently, possession of small amounts of marijuana is now treated as a serious crime and no longer regarded as a minor violation. No doubt this will be thrown out of court in two or three years when the judge finally hears of this breach of the young man’s right not to be subjected to arbitrary search and seizure. In the meantime, this charge will hang over the young man’s head.

The headline to this story could have been ‘Armed Gang Intimidates Park Visitors’. Although slightly misleading, it is the absolute truth from the viewpoint of the people involved. Readers might understand the story better with the additional information that the only white people in this incident were on bikes.

What to make of this? Is such behaviour acceptable on the part of police officers? Is this racial profiling? Do we know the whole story? – probably not but the optics are not good. Would young white men have been subjected to this treatment? I doubt it very much.

The TAVIS program, in addition to reducing major crime and increasing safety is designed to enhance public trust and confidence and build relationships. It is hard to see what the harassment of these young men has accomplished other than inducing fear and mistrust.

When I was growing up, a long time ago, police officers walked the beat on their own and built relationships with business owners and people they met along the way every day – not just during a barbecue and photo op. Not being in groups, individual officers could spread far and wide, covering a large area in each shift. Their presence was enough to detect and deter much criminal activity and to be a set  of eyes and ears on the street. Nowadays, such policing is considered old-fashioned and perhaps requires a modicum of courage from the participants that today’s police academy graduates are no longer willing or able to provide. Evidently it’s OK to ask firefighters to put their lives on the line but police officers need to be in a posse in order to feel safe.

As Weston Web has pointed out, crime in Weston is no higher in here than elsewhere in Toronto. We live in a safe community where rates of crime continue to drop. To receive an influx of police officers during the summer was a fabulous opportunity to build bridges and humanize the face of policing. Tragically, incidents like this one destroy any good will that might have been created.


9 thoughts on “TAVIS – Another Viewpoint.”

  1. This is very disturbing, and your point about the posse of police is excellent.

    I find the police officers in packs, armed and swooping past on bikes intimidating, but I do not feel more safe.

    I think the TAVIS program’s much-heralded presence is misguided and misses the point of watchful participation in the community that would help make our streets and parks secure.

    This is a shameful incident.

  2. In response to the article entitled ‘TAVIS another viewpoint.’

    I’m sorry that ‘Bruce’ the wildlife photographer felt that the TAVIS response was too harsh for his liking. The fact of the matter is that criminals do not have the same rational thinking and compassion that the Ron or ‘Bruce’ may have, and what transpired that day in Lions Park was quite simply, necessary modern day policing. Innocent young men you say? Well, that’s for the law to decide and judging by the weed in the backpack, I think they already have a problem with respecting the laws of society.

    Sure, even us non-criminals may be approached and questioned by the police from time to time, but it’s our duty to be respectful of their actions and there is no need to feel nervous. The TAVIS officers mentioned were simply doing their job and watching out for not only the safety of innocent citizens, but for the safety of themselves as well. Similar to a bomb squad member, those officers couldn’t just casually walk up to a situation that may or may not be explosive. I wonder if Ron or ‘Bruce’ have even the slightest idea of what it’s like to be a police officer in Toronto, let alone in higher crime areas such as the Weston – Lawrence and Jane – Lawrence. Which leads me to a related subject…

    Quite frankly, I’m tired of the claims that Weston has no more crime than other neighbourhoods. I have lived in several areas of Toronto over the years, and I have never been exposed the level of crime that I have seen the past few years in Weston. My household has been rattled by the repeated muggings, drive-by shooting, robberies at the Olympic convenience store, cars being broken into, an attempt to break into our shed, etc… even the ice cream truck being robbed at gunpoint! There’s something terrible wrong when we have to worry about our children venturing to the corner store for a Popcicle or taking the dog for a walk at dusk.

    Having lived in areas where this type of behavior would be stomped out before it even began to flare up, it is with open arms that I welcome the TAVIS team and their tactics. It’s about time they take to our streets and as a concerned citizen of Weston, I encourage all of us to be extra diligent in keeping an watchful eye on our neighbourhood.

    CUDOS TO THE TAVIS TEAM! Keep on taking out the trash!!!


    A concerned Weston resident.

  3. Very disturbing I agree. I think this whole tavis or crime statistics all is tie down to politics. I think this Tavis police thing is put together by provincial funds.? I am sure Laura Albanese is just gloating in her campaign mailings about this. Also I think TPS has change ever since G20, with more reported strip searches, etc even my friend who recently got stop with speeding ticket notice the cop had more of attitude. Unfortunately I don’t things won”t change soon with Ford in.

  4. I think it’s great that TAVIS are making arrests. Would you rather the police work on an honour system of criminals turning themselves in?
    Cop bashing is easy, isn’t it? Try being on the force, or having someone in your family out on the streets, defending your freedom and worrying if they will come home at night alive.
    And Mel, maybe your friend shouldn’t have been speeding. Speeding cars kill people and unlike a little attitude, that never goes away.

  5. @ A concerned Weston Resident:

    I’m sorry that you think we’re inaccurately reporting the crime rate in Weston. I too am ashamed of the recent crimes you mention–and they happened right across from my house.

    I assure you, however, we are reporting the truth.

    If you’re interested, you might check out this site from Statistics Canada: http://goo.gl/qLHBW

    It shows property crime rates in Toronto. The second red line down is the 401. The third is Eglinton. The second red line from the left is Jane. As you can see, there is a hotspot of property crime around the 401 and Jane–i.e. at Chalkfarm and Jane. (The map is here: http://goo.gl/Oot33)

    As you can see, most of Weston has an average property crime rate. Some parts are slightly higher. Some are slightly lower.

    The violent crime rates are here: http://goo.gl/yYnIo

    As you would expect, especially since this data is from 2006, which I believe was the ‘year of the gun’, there was significant violence at Jane and Chalkfarm. Weston Rd and Lawrence Ave also had an elevated rate of crime.

    The central part of Weston, however, had an average rate of violent crime.

    These are the most recent data on Weston I can find on Statcan.

    Toronto, too, is safer than it has been in years–and it is safer than most other places in Canada. Statcan says, actually, “the city of Toronto as a whole continues to have lower police-reported crime rates than the national average”.

    Crime rates are down, too, since this data was recorded.

    All the best,


  6. Hello Adam,

    It’s not that I feel Westonweb is reporting inaccurate crime rates, but rather that the we seem to be repeatedly swayed by ‘city as a whole’ statistics. Surely you agree that our area is not as safe as many others in Toronto. As you said, some notably bad things have happened within view of your own front door. With Weston being bordered by areas that frequently make the news for violent crime, it’s obvious that it can spill into our neighbourhood. Perhaps the actual figures don’t appear all that bad, but the chances certainly are.

    If much of Toronto is in a similar statistical boat, then why aren’t TAVIS teams riding around, say Yonge and Eglinton? Wake up folks, we live close to some real bad people. Don’t think so? Roll the dice and take an evening stroll up and down Weston Rd, Jane St, or Tretheway Dr. Maybe even up the ante by carrying an iPod in plain view.

    Those of you complaining about Police tactics must be content living in a box, which I suspect is part of the problem.

  7. Let’s try to deal with facts rather than with feelings. Fear is a feeling which never leads to anything positive. If I am afraid of the place in which I live, I will view everyone around me with suspicion; I will tend to minimize my interactions with my own community; I will over-react to even the most innocuous incidents. So my fear worsens my community and my quality of life. If my fear is based on hearsay and media hype; leading me to believe my community is more violent and dangerous then it in fact is, my actions help make a fantasy into a reality.

    What should be my reaction to my community? Well first I should educate myself on its reality. Am I really surrounded by violent criminals? Police statistics say no. So maybe I should try to figure out what I really fear. Is it the changing complexion of my neighbourhood? Does new music and different food frighten me? Do young black men scare me because I’ve never met any and have only seen them being led away in handcuffs on my tv screen? Do I fume when I see women dressed in native garb that reminds me of foreign lands and terrorism? How do I deal with these emotions? I might start by walking in my neighbourhood in a relaxed manner and try smiling and saying hello to those I meet. I could volunteer to help newcomers to our community feel welcomed and help them develop positive feelings to their new home. I could demand that those we trust with power obey the law for all our neighbours, so that all will feel equal and safe.

    The bottom line is that the action of the TAVIS force described in the above article were illegal. Police procedures state:
    A person might be stopped if a police officer has reason to believe the person:
    o Has committed a crime.
    o Is about to commit a crime.
    o Has evidence of a crime.
    None of the three indicators were present in the incident related. It strongly hints at a case of racial stereotyping, a simple ”is everything okay”, would have established that the people involved were engaging in a non-threatening conversation. Six policeman swooping down smacks of overkill, and might I add waste of taxpayer’s money. Arresting someone for the possession of a small amount of marijuana seems to veer from TAVIS’s objective to target violent crime.

    But to return to my community, how did this incident make it a better place to live? We now have four young black men who are more leery of the police and less willing to provide them with information in the case of a true violent crime. We have an adult male peacefully engaging in his hobby, bullied and frightened by the very police force his taxes support to keep him safe. We have six policemen whose prejudice is showing and who feel more empowered to act like black booted commandos than defenders of public safety because their actions were not called into question.

    As for Rob’s comment that being a policeman is a dangerous job, Two Toronto police officers died in the line of duty in the past 10 years. Link. You’ll find that more than 405 construction workers have lost their lives in Ontario since 1990.

  8. first off, thanks for stimulating dialogue on this issue- bold move in itself… secondly, I think it’s okay for police to profile – based on clothing, body language, location, moving in packs… lot of stuff…but not the level of melatonin in someone’s skin! To do so is just… ineffecient…. to say the least.

  9. Bravo Gabriella for such an eloquent comment!!! Our store was never broken into until October of 2005, our 25th anniversary of owning it. But we didn’t close up nor cower — we installed a new door and an alarm. When someone tried again to break in a couple of years ago but couldn’t because of the kind of door frame we have, we fixed it and put a guard where the lock is. As for our house, we keep a light on every night outside and have a motion light too. As well as an alarm.

    But,fear begets fear. If you walk confidently, with purpose and with your wits about you, you’ll be less likely a target. Walk in a well lit area — if it’s too dark on your street, then call the Councillor and complain. Criminals like darkness not well lit streets and houses. I have been out at 10:30 at night south of Lawrence doing an audit of our lights — nobody bothered me and there were barely any people out. I was even using a camera. That was about 4 or 5 years ago. So while there are issues, I think that the perception that we are a hotbed of crime when we are just average is a bigger part of the problem.

    And those who look ‘different’? Get to know them, many are highly educated and very interesting people. They educate their children, run businesses and participate in their communities. Some of us were judged too when we came over because we were ‘different’. We are all immigrants to this wonderful country and diverse city. You could be missing out on a valuable relationship by not engaging!

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