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Police killings and brutality in Toronto

Memorial Rally for Otto Vass

Police Barricade

David Cooper/Toronto Star
BARRICADE: Police officers form a chain to push back media cameras as four comrades accused of manslaughter in an Aug. 9 incident leave Old City Hall court in a van with dark tinted windows.

Heavy cloud cover filtered the light to leaden gloom and on the other side of the road at the 7-Eleven a crowd held picket signs, umbrellas and lit candles in the drizzle. As I walked into the parking lot Anna Willats of the Committee to Stop Targeted Policing was saying, "The police anti-gang squad is the gang we have to watch out for." She also had a few words to say about 52 Division police and their hiring of strippers. Anna says police hire them, rape them and get away with it.

I looked around but I didn't see any police at this rally, and none showed at the march that began a few minutes later. Personal speculation was to the effect that I hadn't seen visible police or undercover men at a number of recent FTAA rallies either, so their new tactics must be to either bug people or pay informers in the movement for info.

Ferguson, Missouri protest

Protest sign in Ferguson, MO after the killing of Michael Brown, a 18-year-old black male, on August 9, 2014 by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white male policeman in Ferguson, Missouri. The results were that same as Randy Martin. After several months of deliberation, a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for any criminal charges in relation to the killing. 007

The thrust of this rally was to put on a strong memorial for Otto Vass while reminding ourselves and the public of unneeded police killings, brutality, racism, Target Policing and attacks on the lesbian and gay community. Following the brief opening remarks, that spirit was maintained as organizers led the crowd out onto Landsdowne and took over the road for a long and angry public march down to P.A.R.C. at 1499 Queen St. West.

Rainwater and slush slicked city gutters that are the new graves of poverty, brutality and globalization, and there wasn't any twilight, just the descending murk of a megacity evening. A number of boisterous chants rang out as the march moved on - No Justice No Peace, No Racist Police - Who Killed Otto Vass, The Police Killed Otto Vass - Not Enough Justice, Too Many Police.

At Queen Street the banner and pickets went out and blocked heavy traffic as we walked the final couple of blocks to P.A.R.C. We then went inside for a continuation of the memorial, and Bob Rose began things by telling us that P.A.R.C. is a gathering spot for psychiatric survivors and people involved in issues of homelessness and poverty. It is a large tabled hall in the downstairs portion, and the art of survivors makes up the décor.

A strong turnout filled this hall, so it appears that Otto Vass has no shortage of friends in 2001.

Dudley Laws of the Black Action Defence Committee moderated the memorial at P.A.R.C. He said that those present probably all knew someone murdered by Toronto Police, and even if we have to march a thousand times we'll bring the police in line.

“The police anti-gang squad is the gang we have to watch out for”
--Anna Willats

A song by Brian followed - Free Mumia Abu Jamal and later Dudley led the crowd in a singalong.

Huge posters of Stephen Cann, a former Vice Principal of York Memorial High School, were very visible in the hall. Stephen committed suicide after being beaten in his home by a Toronto police officer.

There were a number of speakers, then later anyone in the crowd who felt like speaking got up to talk. Joyce Riettie of the Justice for Otto Vass Committee had a message from the family of Otto Vass. She noted that family, witnesses and loved one of those who have been killed or brutalized by the police are not offered the support that victims of crime get. They are not helped through their trauma and grief. Nothing is done about the loss and psychological damage. This situation may change as the Justice for Otto Vass Committee has the Special Investigations Unit and the Justice Department together at meetings, discussing bringing in supports.

Danielle announced that a memorial for Edmond Yu will be held on February 20th at 12 noon in Grange Park Toronto. The Four Police Officers charged in the Death of Otto Vass will be in court that same day, February 20th. Supporters are urged to gather at 8.30 am at the court house steps of Old City Hall at Bay and Queen then go into Room 111.

Other speakers included Michelle Monk of Bloor West Against the FTAA and Carol Thames of the Women's Bath House Committee. Michelle noted that globalization has created a polarization of Haves and Have-nots in society, and that police are now used to enforce and maintain the status of those in power. Police no longer represent justice, law or the prevention of crime. Carol stated that police now target every community, even whites, and no one is safe unless they have money.

I believe it was Maria Judas (not sure of the name) a friend of the Vass family, who said that charges against police in the death of Otto Vass should have been 2nd degree murder and not manslaughter. She also felt that the Special Investigations Unit needs improvement of 1521 cases reported to it charges have been laid in only 44 cases. Earlier Pedro of the Latin American Coalition Against Racism pointed out that the SIU is not an independent body but made up of former police officers. So we must continue to push for a fully independent body.

Pedro also said that Otto Vass was never able to get up to fight back against police so we must fight for him.

Near the end a touching poem called "A Father's Love" was dedicated to Otto Vass.

Background info from the flyer

Toronto cops

Jim Wilkes/Toronto Star
Three of four Toronto officers accused of manslaughter in the death of Otto Vass arrive at the special investigations unit headquarters. From left, Filippo Bevilacqua, Nam-Nhat Le and Phil Duncan.

  • February 9 marks six months since the tragic slaying of Otto Vass. On the morning of August 9, 2000, Otto Vass visited the 7-Eleven at College and Lansdowne in Toronto.
  • For reasons unknown, police were called and Otto was escorted peacefully outside. After further discussions with the police, witnesses say Vass was thrown to the ground and beaten for four to five minutes - first by two Toronto Police, then by four of them.
  • Otto never recovered, he died on the spot. Otto was not wanted by police, nor was he in commission of a crime - and according to all civilian witnesses - he presented no danger to the police or community. An eyewitness said, "They were beating him worse than an animal ... He wasn't fighting back at all."
  • On Wednesday October 25, 2000 - after considerable public outcry, including demonstrations and rallies - the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), brought charges of manslaughter against the four officers - Robert LeMaitre, Phillip Duncan, Nam-Nhat Le, and Filippo Bevilacqua. But we know that this is only half the battle.
  • Time and again, police charged in the killing of civilians have been acquitted. In the wake of Otto's death, a grass roots citizens committee has been formed, determined to keep up the pressure to win justice for Otto and his family.

The Justice for Otto Vass Committee demands - Protection of Witnesses - An end to Target Policing - A Federal Inquiry into the state of policing in Ontario - The implementation of the recommendations of Coroner's Juries in police killings.