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Support the police or the vulnerable? Recent violence divides Queen's Park

The premier, who'd said he'd stay out of Toronto's mayoral race, said people shouldn't vote for candidates who'd defund the police
A person adds to the memorial for 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes at the Keele Street subway station in Toronto, Monday, March 27, 2023. Police have said Magalhaes died on Saturday night after being stabbed at the station, where he had been sitting on a bench when he was approached.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park

Recent violence on Toronto's transit system has prompted Premier Doug Ford to call for more police and the leader of the opposition to call him "out of touch." 

Increasing public anxiety over a string of unprovoked attacks, including the killing of 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes, has made the ideological divide between the political parties clear.

At a press conference Tuesday, Ford was asked about the violence and hearkened back to the days when he was a city councillor and his brother Rob was mayor. He said there are about 550 fewer police officers in Toronto now than there were then, and the city has now fallen short.

"I think that's going to be the number one item when it comes to the mayoral election here in Toronto," he said.

Statistics Canada data show there were 4,901 police officers in Toronto in 2022 — 873 fewer than when Rob Ford was elected mayor in 2010. 

However, by the time Doug Ford left City Hall in 2014, there were 432 fewer officers than when he arrived. During that time, the police service implemented a hiring freeze in response to the Fords' pressure to cut the police budget, including an initial demand for a 10-per cent reduction.

But as premier, he said the city should hire more officers and put them on the transit system. He has also led the charge among premiers to call on the federal government for bail reform. 

"And the mayoral candidates that say they want to cut funding for the police, they want to defund the police, don't vote for 'em," he said.

Back at Queen's Park, NDP leader Marit Stiles said Ford should listen to Magalhaes' mother, who called for more investment in mental health care and social supports, telling Global news she blamed "the system" rather than the person who killed her son for his death. 

Asked about those comments, Ford cited his government's 10-year, $3.8 billion mental health plan and said he was planning to call the family, who live in his riding of Etobicoke North, that afternoon.

"We'll do everything we possibly can to make sure this tragedy, senseless murder never happens again," he said.

But according to Stiles, Ford's solution of more police officers is "completely out of touch."

"The solution is to address the root cause," she said. "We have a homelessness crisis. We have a mental health and addiction crisis in this city. That's what the transit union is saying. That's what the workers are saying. That's what the people who are using the TTC are saying. Why does the premier think he knows better?

"When was last time his kids took the TTC to school? My kids did it every day."

Stiles also accused the premier of "rolling out the red carpet" for his preferred candidate in the race.

Though Ford has promised to stay neutral in the election, he has had kind words for Mark Saunders, a former police chief and former Progressive Conservative candidate. 

And while Ford didn't name the names of the candidates who would defund the police, it would apply to Coun. Josh Matlow, who, along with councillor-turned-NDP-MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam, proposed a motion in 2020 to cut the police budget by 10 per cent and reinvest the funds into community programs. 

It's not clear if he was referring to another candidate, Coun. Brad Bradford, who supported that motion but has since opposed similar proposals to cut police funding. 

Another likely candidate, Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, said Monday she supports adding more uniformed officers to the transit system as well as implementing a "public safety blitz" to assure riders that the TTC is safe.

The Liberals support a "balance" of increasing funding for mental health and social supports and increasing the police presence, according to interim leader John Fraser. 

— With files from Aidan Chamandy

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Jessica Smith Cross

About the Author: Jessica Smith Cross

Reporting for Metro newspapers in five Canadian cities, as well as for CTV, the Guelph Mercury and the Turtle Island News. She made the leap to political journalism in 2016...
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