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Police BrutalityBefore the end of even his first week in office, Premier Doug Ford has made it very clear where he stands in relation to “the little guy”—on his neck.

As one of his first initiatives, Ford is rolling back reforms intended to strengthen civilian oversight of police, increase accountability, and ultimately, remedy some of the worst excesses of police violence and harassment against poor, racialized, and otherwise marginalized communities. Passed in March of this year, many of the provisions of the Safer Ontario Act have not yet come into effect. Now, thanks to Ford, they will never see the light of day.

The just-passed, now-revoked reforms included broadening the jurisdiction of existing oversight bodies to cover former and off-duty officers, volunteer members and special constables; and to investigate all complaints against officers, instead of only the most serious. Other changes in the act included giving police chiefs the ability to suspend officers immediately without pay; mandatory coroner inquests for all deaths arising from the use of force by the police; and obligations to consult with communities to develop and report on objectives regarding such things as community satisfaction and interactions with racialized groups.

By scrapping the act, Ford is following through on one of his few campaign promises. During the campaign, Tory MPP Laurie Scott told The Globe and Mail, “The general sense of the bill was disrespecting police officers...We should be respecting the work of police officers in protecting our safety, not denigrating it.” She added, “The oversight in the bill is going to be extremely costly and burdensome.”

In his letter halting the reforms, Ford wrote, “We believe that the previous government’s Bill 175 hurts policing efforts in the province and undermines confidence in the police… Ontario’s hard-working police officers deserve to be treated with respect.”

Why people should respect police officers who systematically harass, assault, and kill them was not addressed. Some of the more farsighted members of the ruling class have recognized just that problem, and saw the new law as a way to win back public trust. However, public trust is not a priority for Ford, so much as quashing any gains made by working and marginalized people in the previous period.

Snuffing out the gains of mass struggle

The Safer Ontario Act was the result of years of protest from marginalized communities, tired of being targeted by police violence and discrimination and seeing their family members, friends and loved ones gunned down, beaten or harassed by cops with virtual impunity.

These protests included the outpourings of grief and anger that followed the murders of Sammy Yatim and Andrew Loku. The execution of Yatim, shot nine times in cold blood and then tased as he lay dying, was met with mass protests. It was mass pressure that forced disciplinary action against his killer, James Forcillo. Forcillo is only the second cop in Toronto’s history to be charged with murder, and the first to be convicted, though only on the related charge of attempted murder. In the case of Loku, the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) decided there were “no grounds” to charge the cops in the Toronto Police Chief’s internal review. Black Lives Matter (BLM) Toronto responded with a protest, which grew into a two-week occupation outside of Toronto police headquarters that, at its height, attracted more than 1,000 participants to a day of action and solidarity.

The Wynne Liberals did not pass the legislation out of any compulsion towards progressive ideals, but in direct response to these movements. Speaking about the public information sessions that the SIU has been required to hold under the Safer Ontario Act, former SIU Director Andre Marin said, “With everyone videotaping everything, we’re getting a lot more transparency led by citizens. That’s putting a lot of pressure on governments to act. Governments need votes and people are upset at how they are being treated by police.”  Earlier this year, CBC reported that police massively ramped up surveillance efforts during BLM Toronto’s tent city protest. Internal emails show police were particularly concerned that the response to the protest on social media was “mostly positive” and that this might “attract more to police headquarters.”

Doug Ford following the halting of Bill 175 (CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS)While from a Marxist standpoint, the new legislation was far from revolutionary—the problem with the SIU and similar bodies has never been the extent of their powers, but rather the lack of will to use them—it was a concession wrung from the ruling class through mass struggle, in an attempt by the Liberals to save face and electoral support. Ford is signalling that he does not share the Liberals’ concern about appearances. Gone are the attempts to veil state repression behind the gauze of consultations, reports, recommendations, and more consultations. Gone are the progressive gestures and half-measures from the top, passed down to the masses to prevent uprisings from below. In the face of general acknowledgement that there is declining trust in police services, Ford has decided, “To hell with the little guy.”

The issue of street checks, or “carding”, is another example of this attitude. After much protest and public discussion, the practice of randomly stopping individuals and collecting their identification officially ended in January 2017. Now, according to regulations, police can only collect identification as part of an investigation, they must inform individuals that they are free to refuse to respond to police unless they are being arrested or detained, and they must issue receipts to any individuals who are carded. However, based on the early reports from a series of public consultations, it seems that nothing about police conduct has changed (an official report will be released in the fall). And yet, despite all indications that it never really ended, Ford is still musing about reinstating TAVIS, for much the same reason that he repealed the Safer Ontario Act—the view that any concession on the part of the government is one concession too far.

The Liberals are the capitalists’ smiling mask, the Conservatives are their bare face. By tossing out the police reform law, Ford is indicating that there will be no more dancing around, no more feints to the left, just straightforward class war. And when the first major battle erupts, he will not shy away from using the police to attack.

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