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Ontario minister wears bulletproof vest to Jane & Finch, causing backlash

Michael Tibollo, the Ontario PC Party’s minister of community safety and correctional services, said that he wore a bulletproof vest while visiting Jane and Finch, prompting leaders to call his remarks racist and ask for a comment withdrawal.

Ontario’s PC minister of community safety and correctional services visited the Jane and Finch area on July 7. He tweeted about the experience, saying, “I had the opportunity to travel around 31 Division and learn about the great work of our police force. We are committed to work with our Police to ensure safe neighborhoods free of guns and gang violence. Glad to have Premier Ford join me and hear his concerns as well.”

Premier Doug Ford also tweeted about the experience. “Enjoyed meeting with the great community members in the Driftwood neighbourhood yesterday along with Minister @MichaelTibollo and officers from 31 Division. We are focused on building strong connections between communities and our police services,” he wrote.

During a question period in Queen’s Park on July 18, Tibollo said that he wore a bulletproof vest before entering the Jane and Finch area in response to a question about carding (incidents where people – often minorities – are stopped by police for no reason). The question came from Brampton North NDP MPP Kevin Yarde.

Yarde asked, “Mr. Speaker. I personally have been carded. […] New Democrats have long been advocating for the end of carding as a first step in addressing systemic racism. […] Will you be making changes to allow even more carding to take place on Ontario streets or will you work to stamp out carding?”

Tibollo responded, “I went out to Jane and Finch, put on a bulletproof vest and spent 7:00 to 1:00 in the morning visiting sites that had previously had bullet-ridden people killed in the middle of the night.”

During a question period later in the day, Tibollo added, “They’re surrounded by drug deals, one of which I saw take place while I was there. It was absolutely horrifying.”

“The police need tools to work with, they are doing an incredible job ensuring that our streets are safe. And it’s our job — I’m not a police officer — but what I can tell you is they need skills, they need tools to work with,” he added. “Our work will be to ensure working with the communities to make sure we build trust and that we have those tools provided to them to be able to do their jobs properly.”

Opposing party leader, Andrea Horwath, tweeted about Tibollo’s comments, calling them racist. “Conservative minister Michael Tibollo’s comment this morning about wearing a bulletproof vest at Jane and Finch is inexcusably racist. Anyone who would say something so divisive has no credibility to continue to oversee Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate.”

Tibollo responded about an hour later writing, “Any attempt to spin my comments this morning, is petty partisan politics. I am proud to support our police, and I will continue to work with communities and front line officers to make sure our neighbourhoods are safe.”

However, Horwath isn’t the only opposing Ontario leader who criticized Tibollo’s actions. Yarde also called for a retraction of the comment. In response to reporters, he drew on personal experience, saying that he was pulled over seven years ago in Mississauga for no reason. “Depending on who you’re asking and as an African-Canadian, I thought it was a racist comment,” Yarde said. “It was a surprise to hear comments such as that coming from the minister of community safety and correctional services.”

Alok Mukherjee, the former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board also tweeted out that wearing a bulletproof vest during a ride-along is not standard. “Since when is this a standard procedure? I did not wear a vest in my ridealongs all over the city,” he tweeted.

Deputy Premier Christine Elliot defended Tibollo, saying that she didn’t think Tibollo intended on an offensive comment. “I think what he is speaking about is needing to go to communities to understand what’s happening, to understand how people have been hit by violence, gun violence in their neighbourhood,” she told reporters.

Reasonable political discussion in Ontario, RIP

Today I had the good fortune of coming across an old friend’s post on Facebook as it floated through my news feed. It wasn’t much more than what he usually posted: extreme support for the Ontario NDP, for whom he does work, and a stream of trash talk about the other political parties in the province.

Today’s posting happened to be a screen grab of the Toronto Star’s Facebook page where someone had forgotten to put quotation marks around an excerpt from an editorial, leaving it looking as if the Star had suddenly taken a caustic and personal stance against the ONDP leader Andrea Horwath.

His sentiments were along the same lines as everything else he’s ever posted. The Toronto Star has long been accused of being a mouthpiece for the provincial Liberal party, he explained, and this just goes to show that they harbour a resentment for Horwath that would go so far as to find fault if she saved a baby from a burning building.

Commentary on commentary.

I’ve never had one true political allegiance, having voted both Liberal and NDP in the past and even supporting some Conservative policy. More than anything I find the discussion and conversation around politics to be the most interesting part of the political cycle.

I found it particularly interesting that he himself would take issue with what he thought the Star was doing since his comments and postings might as well be dyed orange.

“As opposed to you,” I commented, “who would simply neglect to post on Facebook if Horwath went on a killing spree, eh?”

I even threw in a tongue-out smiley emoticon for good measure.

Commentary on commentary on commentary.

“His Facebook isn’t mass media,” came the quick response from someone else.

“No, the last major newspaper to share his views thankfully closed down shortly after the dissolution of the USSR.”

A cheerful jab. Maybe a bit sharp, but that is how old friends get on. A few milliseconds later I see a private message from my old friend pop up. “I don’t allow personal attacks on my wall. Would you prefer to take a minute to correct it or should I just remove your ability to post on my wall?” Uh oh.

I think about what to say here. Is he so closed minded that he actually can’t stand anyone disagreeing with him or even, as I did, lightly ribbing him? Is he so high on his sense of self righteousness that he actually, truly believes that everyone who works hard in the Liberal government and who works hard in the PC opposition are actively seeking to destroy our province? Is he so incredibly fragile that the slightest whiff of a differing opinion will destroy his whole world?

I figure he’s probably had a rough morning and give him the benefit of the doubt. I tell him my love for discussion and tell him one of my favourite quotes: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

A tirade of disagreements. “Just because there is an open forum for discussion doesn’t mean that you should take it to the limits,” he says shortly before deleting me.

While I was still reeling — not over the loss of a friend mind you, we were friendly acquaintances at school who hadn’t interacted in person for several years and he hadn’t crossed my mind since I had an awkward conversation with his boyfriend on Grindr last year — it dawned on me that this is the current state of political conversation.

This is the type of conversation I might expect from an American redneck perhaps, chewing on a strand of tall grass while lamenting that the president is a socialist Muslim out to destroy the country. This stark us versus them mentality isn’t just the property of the lowly masses of the right, either. I remember a time when George W. Bush was the president of the United States and people really truly thought that he was going to singlehandedly dismantle the country and that his policies were crafted with the specific aim of hurting people.

Here it has been adopted by on the far left like my old friend. The rhetoric is downright exhausting.

WE MUST STOP STEPHEN HARPER BEFORE HE DESTROYS CANADA! WE NEED TO END THE EVIL CORRUPT LIBERAL DYNASTY! WE NEED TO GET THE NDP INTO OPPOSITION SO THEY CAN CHANGE

So they can change…

So they can change their own constitution to remove any references to socialism to become more palatable to centrist voters. At least, federally. Here in Ontario where the NDP hold the crutches under the Liberals the chant goes something like:

WE NEED TO STOP WYNNE! WE NEED TO STOP HUDAK! …Eventually.

Behind the scenes at Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill the situation isn’t quite as nasty as people on the street (or Facebook) might assume. Friendships exist across the aisles, parliamentarians and senators working together in committee with those you’d think would be enemies sworn by blood.

What is so surprising about the serious tone my old pal took is that, as someone who works greasing the gears, you’d think he might have some more insight into the true workings of the political world. The attack-ad attitude is designed to appeal to the lowest common voter, someone who isn’t likely to do their own research and just follow the other lemmings off the proverbial cliff and into the voting booth.

The kind of blind, stupid passion he exerts as a tireless support for anything and everything NDP is more in place with a hockey fan than a politico. His total dismissal of discussion and conversation as important to the political process is frightening. Apparently the commentary from the Star was wrong and shouldn’t be allowed. However his commentary on this matter was correct and should be accepted as fact. And my commentary on his commentary got me silenced through deletion, the online equivalent of being removed from the room. What a great friend. Keep your fingers crossed he never winds up being your MPP.

It seems that the ONDP can be added the list of people so “enlightened” that they never want to hear another word contrary to their beliefs, joining such rub-it-in-your-face-smug company as Green Party supporters, militant atheists, and Habs fans.

In the end the irony of silencing someone for a comparison to Soviet newspaper Pravda appears to have been lost on him.

This is the current landscape for political discussion in our fair province. I’m right and you are wrong and la-la-la-la-I’m-not-listening.

Reasonable political discussion in Ontario, may it rest in peace.