Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne walked out of Queen's Park and into a throng of Black Lives Matter protesters on Monday to assure the group that she's taking their concerns seriously.
The Toronto chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement have staged several protests in recent weeks — including an ongoing demonstration outside police headquarters — after the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Andrew Loku were cleared of any wrongdoing. The group also staged a small protest outside Wynne's home.
Black Lives Matter wants Wynne to launch a review of Ontario's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) — the civilian agency that investigates interactions between police and the public that result in serious injury or death or allegations of sexual assault.
"In my heart I believe that we all need to work together to make sure we get this right," Wynne told the demonstrators. "The reason I'm out here is I want you to understand that."
The premier was joined by three members of her cabinet: Michael Coteau, the minister responsible for the province's anti-racism efforts; Yasir Naqvi, the minister for community safety and correctional services; and Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur.
The politicians' arrival was met with some fierce criticism.
"Why did it take you two weeks to respond to us?" one of the protesters, Yusra Khogali, interjected. "Two weeks we've been outside in the cold, in the hail, in the rain ... being brutalized by police, being poisoned by them."
"I apologize if we haven't responded as quickly as you would've liked," Wynne said. "But here I am, saying that we are willing to meet with you."
The premier then asked for help from the group with reviewing the SIU.
"You are on the front line. You understand these issues. We need your help in those reviews," she said. "We're going to need to have some private meetings ahead of time, but we are willing to have public meetings."
'We've demanded accountability,' Black Lives Matter leader says
Janaya Khan, one of the group's organizers, said they've needed to apply pressure to get the government to respond to its demands.
"We've demanded accountability," Khan told the premier. "Part of that is keeping it in the public sphere because the way that things have happened, historically, have not benefited us. Any one of these police officers who are here protecting you are not invested in protecting my life," she said.
Wynne told Khan that she believes there is "systemic racism in our society" but said the group needs to go through the proper process if it wants to see change.
"What I know is that up until this point I haven't had a formal request from you," Wynne said. "I want to meet with you, and I want to get this right ... if you get us some contact information so that we can set-up a meeting, we will do that ASAP," she said.
Earlier Monday morning, the protesters marched from Toronto police headquarters to Queen's Park to "mourn death and injustice caused by anti-black racism" in the city.
For more than two weeks, protesters have camped outside police headquarters.
The protest started after the SIU cleared several police officers of any wrongdoing in the death of Andrew Loku, a black man shot and killed last summer after he refused an order from officers to drop a hammer.
In the wake of the shooting, local Black Lives Matter protesters issued a set of demands to Wynne, Naqvi, Mayor John Tory and Police Chief Mark Saunders.
Black Lives Matter want:
- The police to identify the officers involved in Loku's shooting
- Charges to be laid against the officer who shot Loku
- A police apology to Loku's family
- A provincial review of the SIU
Last Friday, the group gained some traction at city hall when council passed a motion calling on the province for a review of the SIU, and of policing in Toronto.
Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, told Metro Morning Monday the public response to the protest has been overwhelmingly positive.
'We have been ignored for far too long'
"We're still out there because we don't see an end to the injustice that we've been experiencing," she told host Matt Galloway.
"We have been ignored for far too long with respect to...police brutality and anti-black racism."
The group has demanded to meet with Tory, but insists the meeting be public and not held behind closed doors.
Coun. Shelley Carroll, a member of Toronto's Police Services Board, said she understands the anger and frustration in the black community, particularly with how police shootings are investigated.
Galloway asked Carroll if she believes the names of the officers involved in the Loku shooting should be made public.
"I have some appreciation for not releasing the names because SIU investigations happen more often than people think," she said.
Carroll said she saw a confidential report about the Loku shooting; "I wasn't uncomfortable with the outcome," she said. "I was heartbroken with the outcome. There were a number of factors there and a number of witnesses."
SIU investigation process needs a look, councillor says
Carroll says a review of the SIU investigation process is in order.
She also thinks local Black Lives Matter leaders should accept private meeting invitations from the mayor and Saunders, saying it could be a first step to making positive changes.
Hudson declined to say when the protest outside police headquarters would end, saying only that it will continue "until the community feels that it's no longer a tactic that they want to use"
"This is about life and death, it's completely unacceptable and something must be done," she said.