Chants of “shame” and “no violence” broke out in a Toronto Police Services Board meeting Thursday, as a prominent journalist and activist was physically removed after demanding that the board publicly address the case of Dafonte Miller, a 19-year-old who was allegedly assaulted by an off-duty Toronto police officer.
Desmond Cole also called for the resignation of Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders, saying he doesn’t know “how [Saunders] can abide by this.”
“If this Toronto police force thinks that a man beating a teenager with a steel pipe was not in the interest of the [Special Investigations Unit], what are you guys doing here?” Cole told the board, including chair Andy Pringle, Chief Saunders and Mayor John Tory.
Cole’s comments were cut off by Pringle who said the matter would be addressed at a later time. “Please respect what’s being done to our community, please respect me,” Cole said, as the crowd yelled “shame” at the board. Police eventually physically removed Cole from the room, while the audience yelled “no violence.”
The meeting began with Pringle announcing that the Waterloo Regional Police will conduct an internal investigation into the Toronto police’s handling of the assault, due to its “controversy” and “in the interest of public trust.”
“Due to the fact that there are two very different versions of this case in the public domain, it’s important to take the opportunity to have another agency that is independent and separate … conduct an investigation,” Pringle said.
The Miller case has garnered attention not just for the severity of the injuries — the young man was beaten so badly in December in Whitby, Ont., he will need to have an eye surgically removed — but also because the Special Investigations Unit was not notified of the incident by either the Toronto police, nor Durham Regional Police, which responded to the scene. The SIU is a police watchdog unit which investigates injuries or deaths involving police. It was only made aware of the alleged assault four months later, in April, when Miller’s lawyer Julian Falconer reported the incident.
The SIU subsequently charged Constable Michael Theriault, and his brother Christian Theriault, with aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, and public mischief.
Falconer told the Toronto Star that Const. Theriault twice identified himself as a police officer, although he was off duty at the time.
The SIU is only supposed to investigate incidents involving an off-duty police officer if the officer has identified themself as a police officer.
But Saunders has said that Theriault did not identify himself as a police officer the night of the assault.
Saunders has previously defended the decision not to report the case, and again reiterated that reason on Thursday.