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AIRC Letter to PFR General Manager Janie Romoff


July 27, 2020

RE: Notice issued to Afro Indigenous Rising collective, issued under the Trespass to Property Act | Dufferin Grove Park, 875 Dufferin Street

Outlined in the concluding paragraph of the July 25th “notice” are the four goals - articulated by Janie Romoff on the basis of a discussion of “good faith” - which she seeks, as the acting representative of the City, to “strike a reasonable balance between the protestors, the public, and the City.” We agree that these four concerns are the proper basis for an engagement in good faith which, up until now, has yet to be initiated or executed by Janie Romoff in her capacity as the General Manager of Parks, Forestry & Recreation - and as the person responsible for representing the City’s articulated interests.

We are open to starting a fresh chapter in our relationship with the City based on the principle of good faith, and feel it necessary to come to a common understanding of what that entails. For us, good faith entails “honesty or sincerity of intention”. If this definition is to be applied to the four principles articulated in the July 25th letter, then we are fully available and willing to find common solutions. These solutions must be based on the the understanding that the City is open to rescinding its eviction notice, thus proving that they are willing to engage in creating good faith solutions to any problems and concerns from all parties involved.

As the acting, (unelected) official who has been in charge of the mismanagement of this situation, Janie Romoff has created an impasse that has resulted in unnecessary conflict and harm, as well as the misallocation of City resources and funds. We have consistently asked for a means of communicating effectively (including asking Michael Tippet for a direct line of communication with his superiors), that does not include the intimidating tactics of corporate security, and these requests to the corporate security manager Michael Tippet have seemingly not been articulated or pursued effectively by the City under your directive. Unfortunately, your approach and arguments do not seem to be evidence based. Your use of fallacies presented as facts has also compromised the trust of both AIR and the greater community. It has been detrimental to facilitating an atmosphere of transparency, trust and cooperation.

Before we can explore the four goals (protesters’ freedom of expression and assembly; health and safety; general public’s right to access and enjoy the park; physical integrity of park property) that are the basis of a discussion of good faith, we must address the significant fallacies and misrepresentations in the July 25th Notice:

“...large and active fire ...positioned in close proximity to the Parks’ field house”

Other than the fact that our sacred fire is active, this whole sentence is a misrepresentation of the truth. Our fire is neither large nor in close proximity to the Park’s field house. Under the verbal consent and advice of the fire department (5 district captains), we have ensured that we are following all necessary fire safety precautions, and will continue to do so. In this response, we are also including the Fire department and its Union TPFFA in order to both verify this claim and also to encourage our continued cooperation with them. We also find it quite disrespectful that in your reference to the fire, there has been no recognition or acknowledgment of the fact that we are exercising our right to hold a sacred fire. This is a blatant disregard of the Rights of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, and the City’s duty to uphold these rights. We hope Selina Young of the Indigenous Affairs Office can clarify if this pertains to “continued work on indigenous place-making by Parks, Forestry and Recreation”. If the City can provide the resources and skills necessary to hold an inactive fire we would love to acquire these skills.

“...some of the protesters encountered appeared to be intoxicated”

As a group that has been working with, and providing essential services to many individuals who have mental illness, substance dependencies, and various disabilities, we find it extremely disrespectful that you would (having not been on the site), somehow be able to come to the conclusion that people “appeared to be intoxicated”. The actions and behaviours exhibited on July 23rd were not indicative of intoxication. Overall, the sentiments of that day represent a spirited collective response to a large and threatening security force and a desire to protect our persons and property from the intimidating tactics of Corporate Security. In addition, the constant threat of intrusion and violence from Security and the Police caused many Protesters to suffer from insomnia and start to demonstrate hyper-vigilence. Ultimately, sleep was not a possibility, with the looming threat of eviction. As abolitionists, we are quite aware of the practice of the use of fear and intimidation tactics by the Crown in order to compel dissenting voices into submission. Your remarks are both unprofessional, inappropriate, and quite insulting. Your allusion to intoxication also brings up reminders of the racist and colonial history of both Canada and Toronto as it pertains to the Xenophobia rooted in Protestant Anglo-Saxon morality and culture - specifically in demonizing and policing harmless, recreational activities and behaviours, like our use of cultural songs, dances, and other methods of celebration in connection to our protest. This factors heavily into multiple facets of marginalization, most notably against Indigenous Peoples, and immigrant experiences. If anything, we are spiritually “intoxicated” in our pursuit of justice and the abolition of police.

“Toronto Police Service members communicated with the Protesters about their immediate expectations around the safety of the active fire”

TPS arrived with the fire department on two separate occasions which leads us to three possible conclusions;
1.You are unsure about the content of these interactions, or that
2. You were told false information by the TPS regarding the nature of these interactions,
or 3. There are deficiencies in the means by which you obtain and convey information.

“...the protesters often burn fire and play loud music throughout the night.”

We have adequately addressed your concerns and willful ignorance about the fire and thus shall focus on noise complaints. We acknowledge that it was not ideal to have music playing until the early morning hours on the night of Wednesday, July 22nd, but did so in order to have our members awake and prepared to defend ourselves and space from the City’s Corporate Security apparatus. We are also aware that having loud music played consistently is not desired by a large demographic of residents and are already in discussions with the community groups that represent these residents, in order to respect their wishes and have an equitable relationship based on trust and communication.

We emphasize again that by acting in good faith, and rescinding the immediate threat of eviction, we will not feel compelled to maintain a more assertive presence in the Park. We are cognizant of community concerns, and in accordance with local bylaws, we do not condone the amplification of music after 11pm. However, we want to emphasize the fact that Dufferin Grove Park is public space, and though we are not responsible for the actions of others, we will do our best to keep the area safe.

“...the City continues to receive complaints from members of the public regarding the Protester’s activities, which include concerns about shared access to Park space and the facilities being impeded by the Protesters’ activities and set-up”

It is a common tactic of institutions of power to refer to specific complaints from individual members of communities as a means of justifying their actions as representative of the neighbourhood interest as a whole. These “phantom” concerned citizens who appeal directly to higher authorities as a first response demonstrate our critique concerning policing and the violence that in entails. Quite often, these individual appeals are outliers, and upheld by institutions of authority as more valid and worthy of recognition than the actual neighbourhoods, their community members, and organized civic society. Furthermore, it has been articulated to us by Marit Stiles, local MPP, that her office has not yet received any negative feedback from her constituents.

In many ways, we understand your desperation to evict us as an attempt to stifle the positive outreach we have been pursuing with community organizations before they take hold. We also emphasize that the complaints that you speak of - which we address in this response, are actually more indicative of the neighbourhood’s critiques of the mismanagement of the City in providing “full and equitable access to high calibre services”, and “efficiently operated facilities”. From the moment we arrived at Dufferin Grove park, the community came to us to express their disappointment in your management of the park and have repeatedly expressed their desires and concerns with us.

The two most articulated demands that we have received from the community have been cleanliness and safety, and we have been doing our best to acquiesce while also having to contend with the constant intimidation tactics of the City’s corporate security apparatus. It must be made clear that we are encouraging the organization of society for the improvement of the democratic process, as a prerequisite for police abolition, and thus give priority to voices that come from organized civic society - from the ground up.

“The City is also troubled by some of the protesters’ recent efforts to intimidate and obstruct parks maintenance staff from cleaning the public washrooms and locking the washrooms overnight, as is standard practice”

The ease with which the City, as represented by Janie Romoff, both misrepresents and hyperbolically describes events in a way that is so alien to our actual experiences is actually quite troubling. At no point in time have we intimidated members of CUPE 416, “outdoor, etc. workers”. Given that the City, via Janie Romoff, continuously uses health, safety, and accessibility as a point of criticism of AIR, our desire to keep the washrooms open are solely based in health and safety concerns.

This reveals the hypocrisy of the City’s response and lack of self-accountability. As stated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, access to proper sanitation is a basic human right. A complaint we have regularly heard by the community is that they are unable to access the washrooms for sixteen hours of the day. This demonstrates the City’s shameful mismanagement and disregard of public opinion. A grave concern for public safety is the lack of accessibility of amenities that are available to homeless and street involved persons. We have also pledged to our surrounding community to clean the washrooms as needed, by ensuring maintenance checks twice a day between the hours of 5pm and 9am. This has ensured a level of cleanliness and routine maintenance not previously achieved by the City.

We are including CUPE 416 in this email so they can be aware that we welcome their feedback, and would prefer a direct relationship with them, since we are not comfortable with how our prior communications have been represented by Janie Romoff. Furthermore, we are supporting a local petition from community members about keeping the washrooms open, with comments about how the washrooms are cleaner under AIR maintenance than under city maintenance.

“The City’s Field House (which includes the public washrooms and a maintenance closet and storage space for a community theatre group, has essentially been taken over by the Protesters”

Having already discussed providing access to public washrooms (as we’ve identified, this is a misrepresentation of truth, as we have actually been providing the community with extended access to public washrooms), it is also important to note that we have met with and are in regular communication with the Clay and Paper Theatre Group (also copied in this email) to discuss our use of the space. Thus far, they have been in full support of us. As for the maintenance closet, we have been allowing, and intend to continue to allow it to be accessed as needed.

“The City has concerns for the health and safety of its staff in performing their duties in the Park”

We absolutely want to ensure the health and safety of unionized staff, and fully welcome further communications from the Union and its members regarding any concerns related to our presence. We support unions and workers rights and would never threaten their health and safety while on the job. Furthermore, in light of the health and safety concerns that COVID-19 presents, we want the union to also support us in our desire to provide proper and safe access to public amenities that promote public health.

“These washrooms are the only washrooms in Dufferin Grove Park which are available for the use of all members of the public.”

We are in absolute agreement and believe that the only way that the public washrooms can be available for the use of ALL members of the public is for them to be open. We hope that you can see this argument from the City as unreasonable and counterintuitive, since we both recognize that the washrooms should be available for the use of all members of the public; we believe this to include access 24 hours a day.

“AIR’s mandate is focused on...police reform”

We want to make it very clear that our mandate is solely focused on police abolition. We do not view reform as a viable solution. Similar to the concept of “slavery abolition” - which many of us still experience the genetic trauma of - “slavery reform” would seem like an absurd response in comparison, but unfortunately, is exactly the outcome that has occurred, and is the reason we are still here. Let us be clear (colloquially referred to as “don’t get it twisted”) Police abolition as a political and social movement is the inheritor and continuation of slavery abolition, there is no reform when dealing with institutions whose very existence are rooted in racist, colonial mechanisms.

We must also add that under Janie Romoff’s directive, Mike Tippett engaged in intimidation tactics against two plaintiffs in an active lawsuit who are also members of our occupation. We have videos of him calling out both plaintiffs by name while being backed by approximately thirty corporate security guards. This is unacceptable behaviour. They also ignored the fact that those two plaintiffs are not the only homeless members of our camp.

Furthermore we request transparency from the City regarding the funds spent on corporate security’s presence at our occupation for at least 6 hours on the morning of July 24th in order to emphasize the misallocation of tax payer money, already spent on over bloated police budgets, and Sunshine List salaries, that could and should be reallocated to strengthening community based infrastructure. We are not the problem, we are the beginning of the solution.

Now that we have addressed the fallacies and misrepresentation of the last letter, we can discuss our common points of agreement, that represent the only way forward in building a relationship of trust between the City and our occupation.

1. Protestors’ freedom of expression and assembly
We are glad that we are both in agreement that our constitutional right of freedom of expression and assembly should and will be respected.

2. Health and safety concerns
Insofar that we can find common ground for our mutual interest in health and safety we present the following requests,
a) That a representative of Toronto Public Health engage with us in order to advise and implement the proper policies necessary to ensure all health and safety concerns. We were grateful when such a representative approached us at Nathan Phillips Square and believe this is a necessary and proper step in order to achieve the balance between the various stakeholders. The only feedback provided to us at that time was to display the signage that was brought for us, and to ensure we had social distance markers displayed on the ground - both of which were complied with.
b) that we explore possibilities of providing the camp with regular mobile health unit visits, specifically related to our mutual concerns for COVID-19 (we believe this to be a more appropriate and effective allocation of City funds than sending the corporate security apparatus).
c) That any fire safety concerns be brought to us directly by the fire department and its qualified representatives.
d) that public washrooms be made available to everyone in order to encourage accessibility to health and sanitation in accordance with the UN General Assembly resolution, which identifies sanitation as a basic human right (2015).

3. General public’s right to access and enjoy the park
In order to guarantee the public’s access to the park, we propose that all issues of accessibility be communicated with and through active community groups associated with the neighbourhood and park (including groups such as CELOS, and AIR).

4. Physical integrity of park property
There is no substantial claim that we can think of that suggests we are impacting the physical integrity of park property. While we are open to hearing more about the City’s concerns in this area, we do not see how we can better address a non-issue without concrete evidence.

Closing Statement
Our nascent democratic institutions are under attack, and instead of moving forward to a common emancipatory vision of society, the people are on the defensive. Corruption and the entrenched private interests of corporatism (the unity of state and capital), are subverting the few means for the public to engage in and create popular sovereignty. Reclaiming space for public use and participation is quintessential. As abolitionists, it is our task to be at the forefront of actively advocating for the dismantling of the colonial order and its violent legacy. We encourage the City to consider the validity of our proposals, and based on our beliefs of restorative justice, we invite all relevant parties from the City to an open and transparent dialogue about the above outlined proposals.

These proposals represent a common point of convergence between our often divergent interests, and we believe that they can be the basis of a new understanding between us, and the creation of a relationship based in good faith. We hope you take your time to think carefully about our proposal, since haste can often lead to folly, and folly often leads to regret.

We are happy to arrange and schedule a meeting with relevant representatives of the City at the earliest time any morning.

With Revolutionary Regards, AIRC

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