Jane and Finch

Politician mocked for wearing bulletproof vest to Jane and Finch

The new head of Ontario's anti-racism directorate is being slammed as "inexcusably racist" this week for stating that he wore a bulletproof vest to do a police ride-along in Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood.

"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," said Michael Tibollo, a Progressive Conservative MPP for Vaughan–Woodbridge, during question period at Queen's Park on Wednesday.

"The police need tools to work with. They're doing an incredible job ensuring that our streets are safe."

Tibollo, who is also the province's Minister of Community Safety and Corrections, was responding to a question about whether or not his party wants to bring police carding back in Toronto.

He didn't give a direct answer about the controversial practice, which allows officers to randomly and arbitrarily stop and question anyone, but he did recount a recent trip he'd taken to one of Toronto's most reputedly "dangerous" hoods.

Jane and Finch is a predominantly black, traditionally lower-income neighbourhood that's known, among other things, for its high rate of violent crimes. It is considered a "priority area" by the City of Toronto.

Tibollo went there with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and members of the Toronto Police Service earlier this month as part of a larger, city-wide push to address gun and gang violence.

Straightforward as his intentions might have been, Tibollo's comments about wearing a bulletproof vest that day (which is standard practice for any police ride along, by the way) was immediately criticized by political opponents.

"Conservative minister Michael Tibollo's comment this morning about wearing a bulletproof vest at Jane and Finch is inexcusably racist," said NDP leader Andrea Horwath on Wednesday afternoon.

"Anyone who would say something so divisive has no credibility to continue to oversee Ontario's Anti-Racism Directorate."

"It is unfortunate the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services made remarks that stigmatize an entire neighbourhood in such an unfair light," wrote Green Party MPP Mike Schreiner similarly.

"Comments such as these reinforce unhelpful stereotypes that perpetuate racism."

Many members of the community appear to agree, and have been speaking out against Tibollo's comments on Twitter since news of them first broke.

"We would encourage Michael Tibollo to be mindful of the language he uses when addressing issues of race and marginalization," wrote an account dedicated to York Region District School Board students.

"You hold the lives of young people in your hands now, Minister. It is a tremendous responsibility."

Tibollo responded to the allegations against him on Twitter, writing that any attempts to spin his bulletproof vest comments were merely "petty partisan politics."

This only seemed to befuddle critics even more.

Horwath actually demanded that Tibollo apologize for his "racist" remark during a public meeting on Thursday morning, telling him that "you don't build trust with racist slurs."

An apology is not what happened.

Now, in light of the situation, Jane Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP) is calling upon Tibollo to resign as Community Safety and Corrections Minister, as well as from his post heading Ontario’s anti-racism directorate.

"Residents of Jane-Finch Community have been experiencing gun violence like many other neighbourhoods across Toronto and the GTA," reads a press release from JFAAP.

"What makes Jane-Finch and other low-income and racialized neighbourhoods distinct is an ongoing systemic violence perpetuated by different levels of government through years and years of disastrous planning, neglect, discrimination, high unemployment, diminishing public schools, unsafe and unaffordable housing, a broken public transit system, lack of affordable healthy foods and an overall economic apartheid that has been undeniably documented and proven."

"Thousands of residents of Jane-Finch, from over one hundred cultural backgrounds, proudly live in the neighbourhood, without bulletproof vest or fear of each other," the statement continues, "knowing that the most brutal violence imposed on them has been caused by poverty and racial discrimination reproduced by all levels of government, and years of austerity and rich-loving/poor-bashing policies."

The group says it is seeking both Tibollo's resignation and an apology from the provincial government following yesterday's comments to the legislature.

"Instead of scapegoating and stereotyping our community, stop cutting community programs and services, stop providing more tax breaks to the rich and corporations so they can become even richer, stop destroying our public schools and creating more precarious employment and stop justifying more policing in our neighbourhoods," advises the organization.

"FAAP calls on all community based organizations and concerned individuals in the Jane-Finch community and our allies across the City to strongly stand against these kinds of blatant racist attacks on our community and demand social and economic justice for all."

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