Ontario PC minister recounts wearing a bulletproof vest to tour Jane and Finch

Colin D’Mello, CTV News Toronto Queen’s Park Bureau Chief

Published Wednesday, July 18, 2018 5:11PM EDT

Last Updated Wednesday, July 18, 2018 11:33PM EDT

Ontario’s newly-appointed minister of community safety and correctional services, who is in charge of the anti-racism directorate, is being accused of making a racially-charged statement in the legislature.

As Michael Tibollo was asked about the Progressive Conservative government’s plans for police street checks, the minister pivoted to talk about a recent trip he made to the Jane and Finch community.

“I went out to Jane and Finch, put on a bulletproof vest and spent 7 o’clock to 1 o’clock in the morning visiting sites that had previously had bullet-ridden people killed in the middle of the night,” Tibollo told the house.

Tibollo later told the media that during a police ride-along, he visited areas in the neighbourhood that had been touched by gun violence and spoke with residents who expressed fear for their own safety.

But, it was Tibollo’s decision to wear a Toronto police-issued bullet proof vest that caused the most shock among members of the opposition.

“I had to actually ask members next to me ‘did I actually hear what I actually heard?'” said NDP MPP Kevin Yarde.

“I thought it was a racist comment.”

Yarde immediately called for a rare adjournment debate, commonly known as a ‘late show,’ to clarify the comments made by the minister.

The leader of the Official Opposition believes the Conservative member’s remarks warrant an apology.

“It is a racist comment and one that he should apologize for and withdraw immediately,” Andrea Horwath told the media.

Doug Ford seen with Tibollo in area

Premier Doug Ford was also with Tibollo on the night of the ride-along, however in a photo posted to Twitter, Ford was not seen wearing a bullet-proof vest. However, the premier usually travels with a number of plainclothes armed Ontario Provincial Police officers.

In a statement, Toronto police say Tibollo was given the bullet-proof vest as a cautionary measure.

“When police do a ride along, there is a safety assessment,” a Toronto police spokesperson said in a statement. “Since we always err on the side of caution, there is a presumption that the person doing the ride along will be provided with a vest.”

Tibollo says he and Ford also visited a “crack house” to observe the effects of the drug trade on the community.

“They’re surrounded by drug deals, one of which I saw take place while I was there,” Tibollo told reporters. “I walked over broken crack pipes. It was absolutely horrifying for me to see.”

Tibollo said he believes in community policing

Opposition members also expressed their concern over Tibollo’s views on the controversial practice of carding, which has been a flashpoint between police and racialized communities.

Carding, also known as street checks, was restricted in 2017 by the then-Liberal government. The restriction requires officers to inform subjects they are not compelled to participate in the random street check and says that subjects have to receive written documentation that the interaction occurred.

Tibollo said he believes in community policing and is promising consultations with police and communities.

Tibollo also said that street checks are a tool for police.

“I believe street checks are presently being used and to the extent they can be used properly, they can be used,” he said.

Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter says the issue of carding is about people feeling safe in their own neighbourhoods.

“We do not want young black men, brown men, to feel they cannot walk freely as citizens without fear of being stopped without reason,” Hunter told reporters.

Hunter says street checks should only be conducted during an active investigation and that people should be given a reason as to why their being stopped.

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