TCHC employees suspended after Toronto Star story on teens’ arrest


TCHC employees suspended after Toronto Star story on teens’ arrest

Toronto community housing staff were disciplined after news of a violent arrest of four black teens by Toronto police in November 2011 went public. Only two out of six are still in their jobs.

By:  Feature reporter, Published on Fri Mar 22 2013

It was an arrest that instantly undid a lot of good that had gradually been established between Toronto police and the residents who live in a public housing complex in Lawrence Heights.

Four teenaged boys — aged 15 and 16, and all of them black — were outside their Neptune Dr. building and on their way to an evening mentoring program when they were stopped by two officers attached to the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS).
When one teen refused to answer questions, the November 2011 police stop quickly escalated to a violent takedown and one of the officers drawing and pointing his gun.
The next evening, after the teens had been charged and released, three Toronto Housing Corp. managers and three of their staff attended a community “debriefing” meeting, where concerns about the arrests were discussed.
The fact the six employees attended the meeting upset the TCHC, a source says. Several sources say the six were accused of later supplying surveillance video of the arrest to the Toronto Star. About a month after the video emerged, all six were suspended. Only two still have their jobs.
No one at the public housing corporation will talk about what has happened, or the reasons why.
“Toronto Community Housing does not comment on confidential human resource matters regarding past or current employees,” spokesperson Sinead Canavan said in email in response to questions the Star sent directly to CEO Gene Jones.
Jones became president and CEO of the public housing corporation in June 2012.
Several sources who know details but asked not to be named said Toronto police were not pleased by an August 2012 Star story and online edited video of the arrest that shows one of the officers punching one of the young men and then drawing his service handgun.
Although the story and video came nine months after the incident, it was the first extensive examination of the arrests on Neptune, near Bathurst St. and the 401.
What TCHC did next — hauling in staff for questioning — has been portrayed by some as overblown and aimed at shoring up important relationships with police.
For a number of reasons, including worries over keeping jobs and finding further employment, only one of the six affected TCHC staff was in a position to speak to the Star. She was one of the managers and she spoke to the Star late last year, after losing her job. She has not responded to recent Star queries.
The manager was called in for a mandatory meeting by human resources in mid-September — a month after the Star story — as were the other five. In separate interviews held at TCHC’s Yonge St. headquarters, the manager said, the six were presented with the Star story and asked what they knew about it.
The question came as a surprise.
“Nobody knew what the topic would be,” she said.
Nor should they. The Star obtained the video, but it did not come from any employee of the Toronto Community Housing Corp., nor did it come anonymously. In fact, the Star reporter did not know any of the six.
At the request of police, TCHC special constables supplied the surveillance camera footage of the arrest to police, as is the protocol following such an incident, and it became part of the criminal cases involving the teens.
“I was accused of leaking it to the Star,” said the manager. “And I had no idea how it got to the Star. I was told that I must have known something about it.”
The interview lasted 45 minutes and was “not pleasant,” said the manager. “We were told to go home and not to talk to anybody about it.”
Her job, which involved promoting community safety and regular contact with TCHC special constables and Toronto police, with whom she said she got along well, was on its way to being over.
Her email was cut off. Then, a week later, she was given a letter informing her that her services were no longer required and it cited “conduct unbecoming kind of stuff.” It made no mention of the video or the Star, she said.
After four years with TCHC, and a job that started at $63,000 a year, the manager found herself out of work and not clear as to why.
Out of the six, another two managers also no longer work at TCHC. A youth mentor was suspended and fired. The remaining two, a health promotion worker and youth engagement co-ordinator, are still listed as being employed.
“People were all very discombobulated,” said the manager. “Why were they using a tank to shoot a fly?”
Attending the community debriefing meeting the evening after the arrests played a role in the decision to discipline, one source believes. It was seen as a “conflict of interest,” said the source.
Following the arrest of the teenagers, the manager said she was “very concerned that police relations were going to be strained,” and she “tried to build it back up again.”
The four teenagers — two of them twin brothers — were on their way on foot to a nearby community program when two uniformed police officers attached to the service’s TAVIS unit pulled up in an unmarked van.
They questioned the boys about who they were and where they were going. One of the boys told the Star he told the officer he knew his rights and didn’t have to answer. Things escalated from there. That officer is seen chest to chest with the teen and then punches him. When the other teens react and move toward him, he pulls his gun, while his partner keeps the teens back.
Backup arrives and family and friends begin to emerge from buildings to see what had happened.
Parents later followed a procession of police cruisers to the 32 Division station, where an uneasy scene played out in the station lobby, with family and supporters demanding answers.
The teens were each charged with assaulting police. The teen who did not want to answer police questions was also charged with threatening death and assault with intent to resist arrest. The charges against them were eventually withdrawn.
Police, apparently under the belief TCHC staff leaked the video to the Star, were not pleased with the Star story and passed along a message to TCHC, according to four people with knowledge of the fallout.
It was along these lines, said one source: “We’re trying to do the best we can and all of the sudden the footage ends up on the Toronto Star (website). You can’t ever do this again.”
“And then heads started to roll,” said the source. “Anybody who attended that initial meeting to support the boys, they called it a conflict, because Toronto police has the agreement with TCH to patrol their properties and enforce the trespassing law.”
Community meetings following major incidents are nothing unusual. TCHC staff are there to offer support for tenants.
At least one termination letter was signed by a TCHC executive who is no longer with the TCHC. An internal memo sent out March 12 confirmed the executive’s departure but TCHC will not say why he is gone.
The Neptune case highlighted a police practice — the stopping, questioning and documenting of citizens in non-criminal encounters — that was highlighted in a Star series. The stops, also known as carding or street checks, have been criticized as unfairly targeting “racialized” youth, and for causing harm to police relations.
The Toronto Police Services Board has asked the city’s auditor general to examine the practice and the service is conducting its own internal review.
In the case of the Neptune arrests, police were purportedly enforcing the trespass to property act in approaching and questioning the teens. Such encounters also typically result in contact cards being filled out by police.
In emailed responses to Star questions, the TCHC said it has, “in the past, asked the police to assist with the enforcement of the Trespass to Property Act on our properties,” and that its own special constables also do that work.
The TCHC was formally getting that police help around the time of the Neptune Dr. incident.
The TCHC said it has not asked police to stop assisting in enforcing the trespass act, and said it has an “excellent working relationship with the Toronto Police Service. We are partners in community safety and work diligently together on proactive policing in our buildings.”

Jim Rankin can be reached at or at 416-869-4431.

Media Mayor Inc.
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