Saturday, November 1, 2008

Police Out of Toronto Schools, Now!

by Kabir Joshi-Vijayan Basics #11 (November 2008)

Almost 30 public and Catholic schools around Toronto now have armed cops behind their doors every day.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair put the project forward after the release of a school safety report (Falconer Report) last January. The Falconer report was written by a panel assigned by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) after killing of Jordan Manners in 2007 inside C.W. Jefferys High School. Referencing the Falconer Report, the Police Chief presented the proposal to TDSB staff, and got the project approved by the school board last June. But of the one hundred different recommendations made by the Falconer report for improving school safety, not one called for putting police officers inside schools – armed or otherwise. The Falconer Report did suggest, however, that school administrators put an end to covering up issues of safety, and to begin an open dialogue and consultation with students and the community. Instead the TDSB did no community consultation on putting police in schools, and letters sent home to parents in September presented the initiative as a done deal, had minimum information about the program and didn’t mention that the cop would be fully armed.

TDSB publicity says that the officers are there to “build trusting relationships with students” with the officers coaching basketball, helping with field trips or participating in school assemblies. As one school principal put it: “It’s about putting a face to the imposing police figure, and after a few encounters, kids no longer see the uniform…” (Or the gun, the taser, the nightstick, the pepper spray and daily harassment?).

But at the same time, other reports from the School Board say that police are there to stop crime and violence, like a hall monitor with deadly weapons and the power of the entire criminal justice system behind him (or her). So while the officer is said to be a “member of the school family” working closely with the school staff and the Principal, the cop also reports directly to his/her police division. One school resource officer at a ward meeting said that besides “getting to know” kids in hallways, part of his “detail” included surveying students at the nearby mall during lunch and at the local Community Centre after school – it was a way to get to “know the characters” and “make sure there were no incidents.” In addition, the cops ultimately answer to the Police Services, and school officials have been unclear about how a case of violence or abuse by the officer would be answered.

So what could possibly go wrong with police and educators working so closely together? Remember the Safe Schools Act and the Zero Tolerance Policy, put in place after Mike Harris’s huge social cuts of the 1990s? That Act gave teachers and principals greater power to suspend and expel students, as well as to involve police in school matters. The outcome was the targeting of black, racialized and poor students who went from being pushed out of school to being locked into the criminal justice system. It took years of frantic complaints by parents, thousands of disenfranchised students and an Ontario Human Rights Commission Report (exposing unfair expulsions and the widespread bigotry of teachers and administrators) before the policy was finally changed in late 2007. The act was renamed the Safe and Caring Schools Act, but the underlying and systematic racism remains. Now, a particular youth being harassed by school administrators can become the target of police, or visa versa. For youth who deal with regular police brutality and violence (and who face harassment from teachers and officials at school), cops in schools are enough of a threat to their comfort and safety that it undermines their motivation to stay in school. Basics has heard reports in the communities where it is operating that students are already dropping out in response to the presence of cops in their schools.

What you should know is that the program is being paid for by Toronto Police Services through its department of “community policing”, which is really about occupation, socially containment, and greater surveillance. These are the motivations for the cops in schools initiative, and its existence is only further justifying soaring police budgets against the backdrop of fading social services budgets, including cuts to education.

To the students, teachers and parents who have noticed that the cop in their respective school is almost never seen, we have to understand that this is just the first few months of the first year of this policy. The Toronto Police Services has said that they aim to expand it, and school boards say that trustees and principles now get to choose to put police in their schools, but the project could become mandatory for all high schools by next year. In other words, it is a critical time for the Toronto Police and School Board to sell this policy to sceptical trustees, principles and parents. Yet a disturbing example of where these programs can lead to is New York, where since the Police Department (NYPD) took control of school safety in 1998, “the number of police personnel in schools and the extent of their activity have skyrocketed”. So that now the NYPD School Safety Division has grown to be the tenth largest police force in the entire US, with an intensifying culture of brutality, racism and violence!

It is exactly because this is the first year of the cops in schools policy, that it is the best time to resist it. Community opposition to the project has already meant there will be no armed police in any Jane and Finch high schools this year, and has helped influence trustees to not let them in Regent Park or Beaches Schools. Youth, parents and teachers in all hoods around Toronto must demand a removal of armed police from their schools, and an immediate end to the cops in schools program - before the brutal Toronto Police force becomes a permanent and constant part of an already racist and repressive school system.

No Cops in Schools!

Contact BASICS at if you are interested in becoming involved with the campaign to get police out of our schools.

Mural Painting of Incan Prophecy at Jane-Finch

by Lucho Granados Ceja (of Barrio Nuevo) Basics #11 (November 2008)

On September 21st, 2008 community activists from Barrio Nuevo teamed up with several Latin American artists to paint a mural on a wall at 40 Driftwood Avenue, in the Jane-Finch community. The mural was painted in honour of the Incan prophecy of the 10th Pachacuti. The prophecy speaks of the reunification of the Eagle (the peoples of North America) and the Condor (the peoples of South America) in order to bring peace and balance to the world.

Cecilia Alejo, one the artists, said “Arts-based initiatives such as this one offer an opportunity for self expression, while at the same time providing a reflection of the community and an expression of unity.” The mural, a mixed media piece with graffiti art elements, even attracted the attention of local youth who spontaneously lent a hand. These youth not only took ownership of the mural but their street as well and provided a culturally-relevant community landmark.

Where the reality is that our neighbourhoods face decades of neglect, these sorts of initiatives allow artists to beautify them and at the same time display an element of our history on the street for the community to appreciate.

Barrio Nuevo plans on securing more space for this sort of activity in more neighbourhoods in the future. To get involved is future initiatives like this, people are encouraged to contact us at

Venezuelan MOVIMIENTO Hits T.O.

by Hassan Reyes (of Barrio Nuevo) Basics #11 (November 2008)

On October 18th, Toronto’s VIDA Lounge was graced by some of the best revolutionary hip-hop in any language.

The Movimiento show featured 2 of Venezuela’s premier hip –hop acts: AREA 23 from the infamous 23 de Enero neighbourhood and artists/ community activists Familia Negra blessed the stage for their first visit in Canada and Quebec. The Venezuelans were accompanied by Toronto latin hip-hop pioneers Code Blue who are about to release a new album, ‘Premature’.

Three of the members of Venezuelan rap group Familia Negra: Aja, Scott, and DJ Ancho.

The concert was part of the 1st round of FRENTE NORMAN BETHUNE, a movement started by Barrio Nuevo to build people-to-people solidarity with Venezuela, as well as to coordinate on-the-ground community-organizing training for organizers in Canada, Quebec and First Nations territories to train in Venezuela.Other acts who also lent their talents for the night included Vaughan and Oakwood’s Wasun, spoken word artist’s Sun and Spin as well as DJ D Boyz from Cuba and eLman from Dos Mundos Radio on the turntables.

Movimiento capped off a successful first tour that included similar performances all over Toronto as well as Montreal and Ottawa.The crowd was treated to some of the best conscious hip-hop culture that this hemisphere has to offer, as well as being shown that the people of this hemisphere are coming together to fight for our common struggle.

FRENTE NORMAN BETHUNE: Building People-to-People Solidarity, Venezuela to Canada

by Erica Peña & Nico Lopez (of Barrio Nuevo) Basics #11 (November 2008)

As a launching initiative for Frente Norman Bethune [FNB], this past October several community organizers and hip hop artists visited Canada from Venezuela for an 18-day tour. The Venezuelan delegation included members of Comite Nacional de los Sin Techos (National Homeless Committee), and rap-groups Familia Negra, and Area 23. They came to our corner of the world to learn a little more of what hip-hop group Familia Negra poetically refers to as Babylon. During very intense and important times they had the opportunity to compare the social, economic and political situation in their homeland with what they experienced in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Haudenesaunee (Six Nations Confederacy). Surprised and curious about the rich cultural diversity in our neck of the woods, the delegates of FNB shared their revolutionary messages not through hip hop music, but also during discussions and meetings with local organizations.

Besides opening dialogue with diverse groups of people to inform them on the positive changes in Venezuela, which our mass media rarely mentions (if at all), visiting FNB delegates met with grassroots collectives and student organizations, inviting them to participate in this Toronto-based exchange project that can bring us closer to their people’s movement. The exchange will initially allow people from Canada, Quebec , and indigenous territories to travel to Venezuela to volunteer in specific tasks during 3 or 4 weeks, during which they will be exposed to a vibrant social and cultural urban (or semi-rural) landscape. Set out to take organizers and activists to a country that has been in the spotlight of international news during the past decade, FNB is not just a solidarity effort to build stronger North-South ties: it is also an amazing learning opportunity for those actively involved in progressive social change, and especially for those who intending to increase their community organizing involvement in the future.

The visit of FNB delegates could not have happened at a more opportune time as Canada was in the midst of electing its next Prime Minister. The electoral context surrounding their stay allowed the Venezuelans, who have strengthened their system of participatory democracy for almost a decade now, to witness “the celebration of representative democracy”. In the case of Canada, they could notice that voter turnout is way lower compared to their own country, where millions flock the voting centers on the day to choose or even recall the head of Government. Additionally, they were able to see that the mechanisms to avoid electoral fraud did not seem as rigid as they are in Venezuela, where elections are enhanced by voting machines and others that verify your fingerprint coincides with the one on your identification, plus there is a paper track for every vote to avoid any discrepancies when the time to count comes. Finally, the Bolivarian visitors inquired about the lack of “international observers”, who seem to flood their country on every election, “to ensure the transparency of the voting process”.

While visiting various communities and organizations, the delegates gained insight into the many local issues we’re facing in Canada. For instance, their visit to St. Jamestown was useful to learn about the current efforts going towards organizing resident involvement in Toronto’s Mayor Tower Renewal project in North America’s most densely populated neighbourhood. Familia Negra performed at an anti-poverty rally at Jane & Finch, galvanizing the atmosphere as its residents “sung out against poverty and inequality.” They also performed in Montreal during a demonstration in solidarity with police-slain youth, Freddy Villanueva. FNB delegates were invited to speak at radio shows from four different stations, sharing with the local audience their insight on the important role community media has played in strengthening their Bolivarian Revolution.

By visiting indigenous communities in struggle at Six Nations near Caledonia, ON and meeting with solidarity groups such as Students Against Israeli Apartheid, the FNB delegates increased their awareness of our local struggles and solidarity initiatives and were able to parallel to theirs while opening doors to possible mutual exchanges.

The Frente Norman Bethune campaign is demonstrating that the time has come to take a closer look at successful efforts for change in other parts of the world and learn from their positive experiences. Given the global socio-economic turmoil and its local effects, community groups and organizations in Toronto are building international solidarity links to find collaborative solutions to global problems.

For more Info on the FRENTE NORMAN BETHUNE initiative contact Barrio Nuevo at