Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit is investigating after an altercation at a Toronto demonstration left seven officers injured — including four who were sent to hospital but have since been released.
Community organizers told CBC News that the incident occurred after a person who appeared to be homeless and exhibited signs of mental health issues, who was not a part of the rally, had an “outburst.” Police responded with dozens of officers rather than de-escalation tactics, they said.
Video posted on Twitter shows a man being pinned to the ground by officers.
Two people have been arrested, but there’s no word on what charges they may face, according to police.
In a new release Sunday night the SIU said it was notified of the incident at 1:43 a.m. on Aug. 30, at which time it invoked its mandate.
According to the SIU, preliminary information suggests:
- Toronto Police Service officers were in the area of Eglinton Avenue West and Oakwood Avenue on Saturday during a rally.
- At approximately 8 p.m., officers learned about of a man jumping on cars. An interaction ensued between the man and officers, including an officer deploying a conducted energy weapon.
- The 33-year-old man was arrested and transported to hospital for treatment. The SIU is awaiting confirmation on the nature of his injuries.
- Several officers were injured.
The incident occurred during the Bana on the Block protest, a peaceful march to help support the Black-owned businesses on Eglinton Avenue West in a neighbourhood known as Little Jamaica, which has seen a significant decline in sales due to the ongoing Light Rail Transit construction by Metrolinx and the pandemic shutdowns.
Saturday’s rally was organized by two groups called Reclaim Rebuild Eg West and Black Urbanism TO. Demonstrators marched along Eglinton Avenue West from Keele Street to Oakwood Avenue from about 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Leading up to police pouring into the neighbourhood, a man who no one at the rally knew had been rolling on the ground. Police were allowing some cars to pass through the rally, and at one point the man jumped on top of a car, said Sebastian Mendoza-Price a volunteer working with Reclaim Rebuild Eg West.
“We felt that the best tactic would have been for the police to say, ‘Hey, let’s work together to get this guy off the car … bring one of his friends who was there to get him down from the car,” she said. “Instead, two cops with their hands on their holster said, ‘Hey you need to get down from this car.'”
Man Tasered after jumping on car
Mendoza-Price said the aggressive strategy from the police caused the man, who is Black, to have his “flight or fight” response triggered. He jumped from the car and while police tried to grab him, he hit the officer.
The man was then Tasered twice and was then pinned down by police, she said. Other officers arrived the man was being held down, which upset community members who felt uneasy about the amount of pressure being applied to the man’s neck, said Mendoza-Price.
“They said, ‘Hey what are you doing … this guy clearly needs an ambulance,’ she said. “But the police just weren’t listening and instead calling reinforcements. Even before the ambulance comes, suddenly there’s 20 to 25 cops.”
More officers continued to arrive, she said. “Now community members are getting really frustrated, seeing this violence on their street, seeing now suddenly the whole street is blocked off.”
While officers were injured, the violence could have been avoided if this man, who was not doing well, was approached with more compassion, she added.
A video taken by Mendoza-Price shows several police officers holding two people down, with one officer’s arm on top of a man’s neck.
*WARNING*: The video below may be disturbing to some viewers.
I was at the Eglington West Rally today
We did a peaceful demonstration and reclaimed the block for the community by holding one portion of the st
A community member was tazed and arrested suddenly after a skirmish in the street that organizers could have deescalated pic.twitter.com/TE3vm5o4VJ
“The police could have come forward in a way that was in partnership with the community to protect this community member,” she said. “This guy who’s mentally ill, he got Tased, he got knees on his neck … he was crying, he was screaming for help. The community at large is very distressed having to see this.”
Four officers taken to hospital have been released
In an update with CBC News, Const. Edward Parks said a man did climb onto a vehicle and begin jumping around 8 p.m. during the march.
Officers at the scene witnessed this and “went over to speak with this individual,” he said.
Parks said earlier today that officers had attempted to “engage and redirect these individuals, which did not occur.”
“At that point in time, the individual became upset, so the officers arrested the individual,” he said. While this was happening, another person approached the officers and began “striking the officers with a jacket,” and they were subsequently arrested as well, Parks said.
When an altercation is involved with officers, other members of the force are called in to assist, Parks said.
He did not have further information on the charges laid against those who were arrested.
Videos show dozens of officers at the scene
Several videos surfaced on social media last night showing the altercation.
In one of them, dozens of police officers stand on a cordoned-off street.
When asked about the videos, Parks said the investigation is still ongoing and police are still trying to confirm whether the people arrested were part of the peaceful protest.
He emphasized that police want to uphold the public’s right to participate in such events.
“Anytime there is a protest, officers will attend to ensure the safety of the protesters, and also the public, and also to assist with traffic,” he said. “We want to support peaceful protests, we do not assume any type of violence.”
Seven officers were injured as a result, he said.
Parks said four of those officers were taken to hospital with minor injuries and have since been treated and released.
The SIU is urging anyone who may have information about what happened to contact the lead investigator at 1-800-787-8529. The unit is also urging anyone who may have any video evidence related to this incident to upload that video through the SIU website.
The SIU is an independent civilian agency that investigates reports involving police where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.