By Valerie Dittrich and Kiernan Green
The Racialised Students Collective (RSC) and Black Liberation Collective Ryerson (BLC) said they were not consulted by Ryerson security during student security consultations to decide whether or not to place special constables on campus.
“We didn’t hear anything about it,” said RSC coordinator Sheldomar Elliott. He had first heard of Ryerson’s eventual use of special constables on the university’s website after the decision had been made.
Ryerson has proposed to the Toronto Police Service (TPS) for designated employees to have “special constable” status.
Special constables would have the authority of police officers in some instances—particularly in the realm of theft, graffiti, open alcohol, trespassing and other prohibited activity on campus, according to Denise Campbell, executive director of community safety and security at Ryerson.
Ryerson’s security officers have the power to only remove a trespassing individual from campus. “The person keeps coming back,” Campbell said, referring to “chronic trespassers” who have returned over 70 to 80 times.
To discuss the employment of Toronto Police Special Constables “we invited all student groups [at Ryerson]. We made sure we didn’t miss anybody and invited everybody to the table,” Campbell told The Eyeopener.
“We all know the TPS has a history of [using] force on Black people specifically,” said BLC organizer Hansel Igbavoa. “This is not new.”
Back in May, BLC called on the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) to diminish the presence of the TPS on campus for the same reason. BLC had pointed to the violent arrest of a Black man on campus in 2017, and the role of Ryerson security in the deportation of activist Wendy Maxwell in 2005, who was arrested on campus while selling cookies for an International Women’s Day event.
Nine Ontario universities have implemented special constables on their campuses, including the University of Toronto and McMaster University.
When discussing the possibility of implementing special constables on campus, Campbell consulted the National Survey of Student Engagement—an annual survey across universities in Canada and the United States, where 202 Ryerson students were surveyed on how safe they felt on campus or the surrounding community.
According to the results, “students felt more unsafe at Ryerson than they did at other schools in comparison,” said Campbell. “Ryerson did not fare well in this stat.”
A total of 12 open student consultations were held to discuss special constables since 2016, with three more planned throughout this fall, said Campbell.
The overwhelming feedback from consultations was that students do not feel safe around campus, and “they just don’t know what is making them feel unsafe,” said Campbell.
Campbell said she wants the special constables to reflect “what campus looks like and what we represent on campus.”
“We don’t want to be a police state, we don’t want a military-style police service on our campus,” he said.
Elliott said he’s heard of countless incidents involving Ryerson security and students of colour. “I’m really concerned that it’ll just be exaggerated with the presence of actual cops on campus,” he said.
“Having the power to actually arrest people and then go to these extremes—it’s really unsafe,” said Elliot.
Igbavoa said that there’s no way to have police patrolling in a space without it being considered a police state. “If you’re going to include community safety in your name… you’re not looking into ways that you can make our community members feel safe without jeopardizing the safety of others.”
He said that even if BLC was invited to the consultations, they probably wouldn’t have come, citing the work that they have already done as a coalition. “That’s not our responsibility as students or organizers like myself to do this, [when] people are paid to be in these [security] positions.”
Elliott said he wished Ryerson had done more to reach out to the students of traditionally marginalized communities on campus. “If they reach out…they would realize that [security] is not what we want.”
“We had made up our mind to not exhaust ourselves in those kinds of antics, because it’s what the university does all the time,” said Igbavoa. “We literally [took] action just before their consultations and we made our opinion very clear on [police on campus].”
“Police just aren’t the answer to it,” said Elliott. “As we’ve seen in the media and in [the] news, these situations tend to be escalated really quickly. Police tend to be the ones perpetrating these issues.”
“Whether they be Black, Brown, Indigenous [or] have intersecting identities, there’s more potential for there to be harm instead of good,” with the implementation of special constables, said Elliott.
Igbavoa said he’s concerned about whose safety is really prioritized on campus. “Who’s more valuable in the eyes of Ryerson University? It’s definitely not Black folks. It’s definitely not marginalized folks.”
“I’m not the mind of the university, so I can’t really say,” he added. “We continue to call them out on this… they just have to do better.”
Back in March 2019, Ryerson began holding consultations for the Anti-Black Racism Climate Review (ABRCR).
First proposed by the BLC in their 2016 demands to the university, the consultations were led by the Office of the Vice-President Equity and Community Inclusion.
In a Sept. 23 interview with The Eye, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said that the university is awaiting a report based on the consultations with Black faculty, staff and students who were interviewed by consultant Rinaldo Walcott—an international expert on Black cultural studies—conducted in focus groups or as individuals.
“There’s this particular experience that you have as a Black person that other non-Black people could just never understand. I’ve been in situations where I feel uncomfortable, just around security and what they can do,” said Elliott.
He said for his peers to better understand the experience of students of colour regarding campus security, they can practice effective, compassionate allyship and “understanding that the struggles of one person won’t have to directly influence you in order for you to take justice or to care about them.”
“I can assure you and promise you that we will have oversight and accountability for folks that are not comfortable with having special constables on campus,” said Campbell.
Ryerson security did not respond to The Eye’s follow-up questions in time for publication.
Igbavoa said that the university needs to do more work in terms of researching the effects of heightened police presence and community based safety, rather than having the police on campus.
“We [shouldn’t] have to keep repeating ourselves, over and over again. We constantly have to [do their labour]. Part of that labour we’re doing is continuing to call out Ryerson University and security on campus.”
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