Calls on the rise for Toronto police to drop charges against protesters who tampered with statues

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Protesters threw pink paint at an equestrian statue of King Edward VII at Queen’s Park in Toronto on July 18, 2020.

Carlos Osorio / The Canadian Press

Three people accused of vandalizing statues in downtown Toronto were no longer in custody as early as Sunday morning, after an hour-long rally for their release that the Toronto police chief later called questions of hijacking most significant anti-black racism.

Today, several MPs, lawyers and members of the Black Lives Matter movement are calling for the charges against the protesters to be dropped. The controversy arises amid continued protests against the police treatment of racialized communities and the presence of public memorials to those who have committed historical injustices.

Competing accounts have also emerged of what happened on the night of July 18 regarding detainees’ access to a lawyer.

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On Saturday morning, a Black Lives Matter protest began at Ryerson University and moved to Queen’s Park, focusing on calls to reimburse police. During the protest, a statue of Egerton Ryerson at Ryerson University and another of John A. Macdonald at Queen’s Park were painted hot pink.

Daniel Gooch, Jenna Reid and Danielle Smith were arrested and detained by police after being found covered in paint near a van containing paint supplies.

At around 5 p.m., Toronto police released a statement that the three had been charged with three counts of mischief and conspiracy to commit an offense, and that two had been released.

But a few hours later, TPS tweeted that the inmates had “refused to sign the release forms to leave custody.” They will be released upon signing and we would like them to do so. “

By this time, a crowd had gathered outside the police headquarters, including the detainees’ lawyer and several deputies.

According to Saron Gebresellassi, the lawyer for one of the accused, the last detainee was not released until after 2 a.m. She called the incident “an embarrassment” for Toronto in light of growing global movements for police accountability and transparency.

“The international community is watching Toronto so this is not the Toronto we want to show the world,” she added.

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She also said she urged the Canadian legal community to advocate for the drop of all charges against the three.

Gebresellassi said police did not allow her to speak to her client on the phone until around 3 p.m. Saturday, which was only a brief conversation.

She said she had to wait hours to receive information from the arresting officer, then waited until midnight to speak to her client again about the conditions of their release, which she describes as “unconstitutional” and a violation of Charter rights.

However, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said in a statement Sunday evening that the lack of access to a lawyer was a “false story” and that detainees had access to a lawyer in the midst of the post. -midday, but “had chosen to remain in detention” in the early morning.

“We are recording these processes, and at the time the council was chosen, access was granted,” Chief Saunders said in the statement. “It is unfortunate that a narrative has been fabricated that does not advance the very real issues we face with systemic anti-Black racism and the dialogue around the police and the community.

Several MPs who were at the scene outside the police headquarters backed Ms Gebresellassi’s claims on social media and The Globe and Mail that she had been prevented from speaking to her client.

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Rima Berns-McGown, MP and spokeswoman for the official opposition to poverty and the homeless, said she arrived at the scene early in the evening.

She also calls for the charges to be dropped, arguing that the statues are a monument to the injustice of the past and should be part of a larger discussion of how society celebrates historic wrongs.

“The problem here is that you have these statues of people who have committed colonial and racist violence, frankly, and who are still standing up for these things at a time when, in theory, we are trying to make Canada go round and fine honorable. for centuries of this violence, and yet the statues are still standing, ”said Ms. Berns-McGown.

Sunday morning, the Toronto section of Black Lives Matter held a press conference to request the charges be dropped.

John Struthers, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, said the current context gives political weight to the decision to arrest and charge the protesters.

“In a way, it is a political issue,” he said. “The police have the discretion to charge anyone at any time with anything, and many offenses may not be charged.”

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