Police at the June 6, 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Toronto. (Image: Photo by Mitchel Raphael)

Racialized communities should keep asking for defunding of the police

When the shocking images of the police murder of George Floyd became public, many voices rose up in the United States and worldwide asking for an end to police brutality, calling for accountability, defunding the police and putting an end to the white supremacy. Over a short period of time, the denunciation of systemic and institutional racism, particularly within the police, became a global conversation. 

In Canada, we tell ourselves that our country isn’t the U.S., that racism is an issue in the south of the border, that we are somehow immune from systematic racism, and that when things go badly in Canada, it is mainly the work of few bad apples. According to this narrative, it is never the result of an inherently racist ideology that drives the colonization of the lands now called “Canada,” runs the country’s public institutions, and continues today to manifest itself in the detention of migrant workers, and in the killing of Black, Indigenous and racialized peoples. 

Unfortunately, on the ground, the Canadian reality isn’t as rosy as some of us try to describe or believe it. 

Recently, an elderly Muslim man of 62 was killed in Mississauga by the Peel Regional Police. The police came supposedly to conduct a wellness check. The family of Ejaz Ahmed Choudry publicly explained that he suffered from schizophrenia and a number of other health conditions, and that he is afraid of police.

Last month, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Indigenous-Black woman fell from a 24th-floor apartment building in Toronto. Her family was left with unanswered questions regarding the circumstances of her death, after they called police to get help for their daughter. The mother of the victim had hoped police would take her daughter to Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Instead, her interaction with the police ended with Korchinski-Paquet being dead.

On June 4, a similar case ended tragically with an Indigenous woman being shot and killed by Edmundston police in New Brunswick, after they were called to conduct a wellness check. Chantel Moore, who had moved from British Columbia to New Brunswick to be with her mother and five-year-old daughter, was shot by the police five times.

Just over three years ago, Soleiman Faqiri was killed by prison guards.

Like Choudry, he suffered from mental illness, wears Muslim garb and immediately before his encounter with guards he was experiencing a mental crisis. Instead of being housed in a mental health hospital, Solieman Faqiri had been placed in the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ontario, in a segregation unit.

Eleven days after arriving, he was dead. The guards were never charged. Today, they are still free. 

Four years ago, Abdirahman Abdi, a 37-year-old man from Ottawa, was killed by police after being chased from a coffee shop. Abdirahman Abdi suffered from mental health issues.

The trial of one of the police officers involved in Abdi’s killing opened last year. The coffee shop where staff first called the police on Abdi recently publicly apologized for its initial response to Abdi’s death. Perhaps it took the pictures of George Floyd going around the world to prompt this mea culpa, but obviously it is too little, too late.

Three of the above examples involved racialized Muslim men: Three examples where police officers and prison guards killed victims instead of protecting them. Worse, no accountability took place. No repair has been given to families; no justice was achieved. 

Last February, the Peel Region’s police Chief, Nishan Duraiappah, himself a racialized man, decided to launch an initiative to help with the increase of mental health calls.

Four months later, this initiative miserably failed with the death of Ejaz Choudry at the hands of the police. I believe the most honorable thing for police Chief Nishan Duraiappah to do is resign. 

It is simply a myth to think that by simply appointing racialized people in positions of authority, racism will stop. It won’t. In fact, I believe the presence of racialized people in institutions like the police can be exploited to lend legitimacy or license for white supremacy to continue and flourish.

This is why it is crucial today for all racialized peoples to unite their voices and call for the defunding of the police.

So far, the Ontario government refused to hear such a call. The spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General recently said that  “We have confidence in police services to make the appropriate decisions and take the necessary steps to keep their communities safe.”

This remark isn’t surprising. Under the light of the sad examples above and many others that happened in the recent months and days, the discussion should continue, and the calls for justice should persist.

Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year. She campaigned tirelessly for his release. Mazigh holds a PhD in finance from McGill University. In 2008, she published a memoir, Hope and Despair, about her pursuit of justice, and recently, a novel about Muslim women, Mirrors and Mirages. In 2017, she published Hope Has Two Daughters, a novel about the Arab Spring. You can follow her on Twitter @MoniaMazigh or on her blog.

Image: Mitchel Raphael

Monia Mazigh

Monia Mazigh

Monia Mazigh was born and raised in Tunisia and immigrated to Canada in 1991. Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured...