Ontario's solicitor general says an "offensive" image shared on a closed Facebook group of mainly retired Durham region police officers is "wrong" and she is glad that the post has been taken down.
Sylvia Jones says she fully supports the response of Durham Regional Police Chief Paul Martin, who has condemned the post. The image was shared on the group called Durham Regional Police Friends and obtained by CBC Toronto.
Martin has ordered an investigation by his force's professional standards unit to determine who shared, liked and commented on the post, which showed two stick figures with police hats and white faces standing over a prone stick figure with a brown face. The investigation will also determine any are currently working as police officers.
That investigation could lead to disciplinary action, Martin told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.
"I just think it's wrong," Jones said on Wednesday.
Jones said the police chief described the image accurately. "Offensive, inappropriate, use your head, people," she said. "I don't care whether it was a private group. That was wrong and I'm glad it was taken down and I'm glad that the chief has reacted as aggressively as he has."
A community activist, a member of a group that represents black police officers and a legal expert have all condemned the image, saying it implies that people of colour in Durham region are the enemy, and it justifies violence against them by police.
The image shows one stick figure pointing a gun at the brown man while pinning him down with his foot, while the other holds what looks like a baton and appears poised to strike. Other stick figures on either side are smiling. "My dad is my hero," reads handwriting above the image.
Jones described the image as hateful.
Image divides the community, solicitor general says
"I would ask respectfully for people to think before they post things on Facebook. You know, there seems to be this assumption that anything goes. And I just think it's wrong. And people would never say that in a public, open venue. And yet for some reason, this visceral hate comes across in Facebook posts that would not be appropriate in any other place," she said.
The solicitor general reacted a day after the police chief spoke to CBC Toronto, fighting back tears as he spoke about the image."'It disgusts me. It's repulsive," Martin said on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Martin met with Jacqueline Edwards, a member of ABLE, the Association of Black Law Enforcers, a non-profit organization focused on needs and concerns of racial minorities in law enforcement. Its members are primarily active and retired black police and peace officers.
Image leaves group of black officers 'extremely saddened'
"Racism has no place in the Durham Regional Police Service whether it is retired officers or serving officers. It is important for us to be held accountable in situations like this," Edwards said. "We look forward to the outcome of the investigation. We feel reassured that Chief Martin's intent is very genuine and he will in fact see this through."
Edwards said the group was "very saddened" and "extremely disappointed" by the image. "It's very disturbing. It's extremely offensive," she said.
ABLE told the police chief that the issue should be treated as "racially discriminatory," whoever is responsible should be held accountable, and if police officers who are still working made comments, they should be "held to the standards that law enforcement practitioners need to be held to," Edwards said.
As well, she added, those who reported the image to the media should be free from reprisal.
Officer that posted image responds
The individual who posted the image in the group responded to the backlash against his post.
"While at first glance I did not see anything possibly offensive in it, some members of this group did," the post by Louis Waldman, a retired Durham police officer reads. He adds that the person who leaked the photo had thrown its members "under the bus."
Waldman writes he will not apologize for the post.
CBC News reached out to Waldman for further comment, but so far haven't received a response.
Image sends disturbing message, head of legal clinic says
Omar Ha-Redeye, executive director at the Durham Community Legal Clinic, said the image is clearly disturbing. The big smiles on the spectators are particularly unsettling, he said, because the suggestion is that violent interactions between police and people are enjoyable.
It is not known when the post was published, but Ha-Redeye noted that media coverage of the post comes after evidence was presented at the trial of Toronto Police officer Michael Theriault and his brother Christian Theriault in Oshawa on charges of aggravated assault and obstruction of justice.
The Theriaults are accused of severely beating Dafonte Miller, a young black man, nearly three years ago. Miller lost an eye. The trial, which began in October, is set to resume in January.
"I think we have to be aware of the context in which this photo was posted and perhaps people were liking it… where a young black individual in Durham Region has allegations that he was violently beaten by two off-duty police officers," Ha-Redeye said.
"That's a context that really does suggest that the youth in Durham region…. are perhaps getting the wrong message here, which is that people of colour are necessarily the enemy, they are necessarily criminals and perhaps that violence against these individuals is somewhat justified by law enforcement."