Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is already being hailed on social media as a shining example of a politician who listens after an impromptu meeting with Black Lives Matter demonstrators outside of the provincial legislature in Toronto. But the activists, who are now ending their two-week sit-in outside Toronto police headquarters, were not impressed.
The group is demanding charges be laid against and the identity disclosed of a police officer who shot and killed a 45-year-old black man with a history of mental illness, and they want a review of the Special Investigations Unit, a provincialoversight body charged with policing the police.
On Monday morning, following the announcement of a 900-meter march from police headquarters to an undisclosed location — "The Black Reckoning," they called it — activists and allies chanted and filed themselves into a line in anticipation of the action.
Trudging through the slush on College Street, the marchers were accompanied by police officers, who kept them out of downtown traffic, as a pick-up truck playing jazz music led the way.
The demonstration, meant to resemble a New Orleans funeral procession, ended at Queen's Park, the legislature, where in a surprising move, Premier Kathleen Wynne exited the building and walked straight into the crowd, as a swarm of activists and media surrounded her. The premier's security detail, Community and Public Safety minister Yasir Naqvi and Culture Minister Michael Couteau who is heading the province's new anti-racism directorate, and Madeleine Meilleur, the attorney general, accompanied her.
"In my heart I believe that we all need to work together to make sure we get this right. The reason I'm out here is I want you to understand that," Wynne said.
"What I know is that up until this point, I haven't had a formal request from you. I want to meet with you and I want to get this right," she said. "The reason we're setting up an anti-racism directorate is that I believe we still have racism in our society--"
"Anti-black racism," Yusra Khogali, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, interjected. She later said the meeting with the premier was long overdue, and that it should not have required protesters to march down to Queen's Park, especially after two weeks of loudly voicing their demands outside police headquarters. Still, the group considers the meeting they have secured to be a victory in a struggle that has gained prominence in recent weeks in Toronto.
Wynne acknowledged anti-black racism and agreed to a public meeting with the leaders, but refused to continue talking about the issues on the spot.
Black Lives Matter held a vigil for Andrew Loku, the man who was killed by a police officer whose name has not been disclosed last summer, outside of her North Toronto house on Friday — a move she called "unnerving."
"We are going to need to have your help," said Wynne, before walking back into the legislature building. "We are undertaking a review of the [Special Investigations Unit]. We are reviewing all of the police oversight bodies. We need your help in doing that. You are on the front lines."
The sit-in outside of police headquarters began with a burst of tension, as police officers took down tents and doused a fire that had been set to keep the protesters warm. But the activist group stood its ground, with people braving the elements and spending nights in the cold as a show of defiance.
On Monday, before walking back to police headquarters to gather their things and take down posters, the activists celebrated what they saw as a victory, dancing to music blaring from a pick-up truck in Queen's Park. They vowed to return in two weeks if nothing came of their meetings with the premier.
"You are on notice," read a giant, white-on-black banner hung outside of Toronto police headquarters, as everything else was packed up, reminding the city of what took place on those steps. "Your anti-blackness has been exposed. We are not finished."
Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk