Left-leaning councillors question John Tory on plan to add police on TTC

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A group of council members are asking Mayor John Tory tough questions about the city’s plan to tackle violence on the TTC by sending in the cops.

In a letter delivered to the mayor’s office on Monday afternoon, a half-dozen left-leaning council members — Amber Morley, Gord Perks, Alejandra Bravo, Ausma Malik, Josh Matlow and Paula Fletcher — laid out a series of what they described as “urgent questions” about the Toronto Police Service’s deployment of an additional 80 officers to patrol the TTC.

The mayor, Police Chief Myron Demkiw, and TTC CEO Rick Leary unveiled the plan last Thursday in response to a series of violent attacks on transit that have shaken riders and ignited debate about public safety in the city. Tory said at the time the officers “will make sure the TTC is safe for passengers and transit employees.”

In the letter, the councillors acknowledged the “(recent) tragedies have increased the urgency to ensure safety for transit riders and operators, who are understandably concerned.” But they argued that “there are a range of different approaches to increasing safety and wellbeing on public transit and in our communities.”

The letter asked the mayor for the cost per day of the additional officers, who will be paid overtime for the specialized duties. The group also requested details of how long those officers will be deployed, and whether the city or TTC will foot the bill.

Noting that Toronto Police data has shown the service has used force against Black, Indigenous and other racialized residents at disproportionately high rates, the councillors questioned what plans are being developed to ensure those groups won’t face increased discrimination as a result of the new transit security measures.

They also asked what alternatives were considered to ensure the safety of vulnerable people who are “turning to the TTC as an only option for respite” at a time “warming centres are often inaccessible, shelters are at capacity, and temperatures are below freezing.”

Footage acquired by Global News last week showed officers shaking a man who was asleep on a subway train. The councillors said people like that pose no risk to public safety, and asked Tory for a comparison of how much it would cost to hire 80 mental health outreach workers and 80 additional TTC operational staff, instead of 80 officers.

Late Monday afternoon, after Tory’s office had received the letter but before it was made public, the city announced additional security measures for the TTC it said would go into effect this week.

Among them are the addition of 20 “community safety ambassadors” to connect homeless people with outreach services, and the temporary placement of 50 security guards across the system.

Those measures are on top of the TTC’s previously announced plans to hire 50 more special constables — who have limited police powers — this year. The transit agency has also committed to having 20 Streets to Homes outreach workers on the network in 2023, and to increasing the presence of TTC employees in public areas.

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In response to the councillors’ letter, Tory issued a statement in which he said it’s “disappointing that some councillors would rather play politics than work together on immediate and long-term solutions to violence and crime.”

“I’m focused on working with the TTC, Toronto Police, and City of Toronto staff on solutions that will help keep people safe,” he said.

Tory didn’t say how much the additional police officers will cost. However, he asserted that in addition to adding police and special constables, the city is “also working hard to address the root causes of violence” by investing in crisis services, outreach workers, anti-violence initiatives, and programs for families and youth.

“This isn’t an either/or question,” he said.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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