TTC: A confrontation of Toronto’s police force and collapse of social support
After a reported 314 arrests and over 220 social services referrals, the Toronto police force is ending its stay on the city’s transit system. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was patrolled by officers for two months, but why? Was this a rational solution to the violence issues this city has been facing as of late? What more can be done by Toronto as a whole to move forward and curb issues at the source?
The increased presence came, in no small part, from the heavily reported acts of violence in 2022. In a report from TTC CEO, Rick Leary, a 46% rise in violence on the system took place in 2022 compared to 2021, with a grand total of 1,068 incidents occurring throughout the year. These reported acts covered a wide range of shocking events, from people being pushed onto the tracks of the subway, stabbings, BB gun shootings and an alleged swarming, to an incident of someone being set on fire. These horrendous incidents left much of the city scared to step foot on a bus, streetcar or subway, and understandably so.
It was this fear which prompted the January 2023 announcement from Toronto police, announcing the overtime shifts and patrols of more than 80 officers to ensure a presence on the TTC. This overtime was stated to come at a cost of $1.5 million per month according to city manager Paul Johnson, a total which exceeds the Toronto Police’s budget and would require additional funding from the city itself to be considered.
As serious as these acts of violence are, many resisted the city’s immediate choice to turn to the police as a response. This comes during a time of high tensions between police and the general public, building rapidly following the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 and the controversial tactics employed by the police to clear homeless encampments in 2021. This has led to many Torontonians fighting to defund the policing system as a whole, meaning the act of throwing officers onto transit is worrisome to some, and potentially frightening to others.
We want to take a step back and look at why the TTC has ended up in this state, highlighting the fact that these violent outbursts are a microcosm of very real issues with deep root causes.
“The disparity between the rich and poor has really grown,” argued Toronto Star columnist and University of Toronto instructor, Shawn Micallef. “With cuts to social services, a lot of this trouble, all of the problems people with nowhere to go have had, the places which have traditionally taken them in are overrun, all of this is now pouring out onto the streets, including onto the TTC itself.”
Micallef explained the fact these incidents are not exclusive to 2022, the TTC has been home to outbursts of this kind for a long time, the only difference now being people are forced to pay attention. “It becomes this terrible, perfect storm, of a lot of incidences happening at once, a lot of media attention, a lot of people feeling prone to seeing this themselves, and as the pandemic waned and more TTC users were starting to get back on transit, people are in visible distress in their spaces in a way they weren’t before.”
The media shares partial culpability in platforming these stories of violence over the greater issue of class disparity. “Fear is a real thing, but when you’re making policy and funding decisions, it should be more rational. It’s very easy to ram through millions of dollars when you have this kind of fear behind you, how can you argue against this money when you’ve seen these stories,” argues Micallef. “There might be other solutions but it’s very easy for people to dismiss these root causes because [providing better forms of social services to those who need it] takes a lot longer to fix. If you throw a bunch of cops out there, it makes a lot of people feel safer.”
Micallef argues that modern-day Toronto seems like a “meaner” place than it did in the past. “Watching the evictions in parks, and the violence associated with this, and the overwhelming show of force from people acting in the name of the city of Toronto, it just seems meaner.” He highlights this may be the first time where many Torontonians are being forced to witness the reality of the city’s true state, offering an explanation for the reasoning for this newfound fear. “If you’re wealthy in Toronto, you can live a very good life and avoid all of this, but I think these last few months, with all of this spilling over into so many different spaces, the worlds of the rich and poor have come face to face.”
This does not have to be a bad thing, however. Toronto’s population being truly confronted with these gross disparities for the first time might trigger a response of empathy which could signal a path forward. “There is a real base of good people in the city,” explains Micallef. “I hope that seeing people struggling, seeing the visible disparity between the comfortable and uncomfortable will trigger an empathetic response.”
Enjoyed reading this piece? Check out “It’s a Toronto Ting” on Glossi Mag.
Thomas Publow is a contributor at Glossi Mag. Currently finishing his degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University, Thomas considers himself an expert in all things VMAs and Beyoncé.