Opinion
2 min

Toronto police demonstrate inclusiveness by Tasering man, making HIV-phobic comment

‘He’s going to spit in your face, you’re going to get AIDS,’ officer says to witness filming the incident

An officer involved in the Jan 24, 2017, Tasering of a man at Church and Dundas Streets made HIV-phobic comments about the restrained man to the witness filming the incident. Credit: Screengrab via CityNews.ca

Well, that was quick.

A week after the membership of Pride Toronto overwhelmingly voted to ban official police floats from the Pride parade, Toronto police were caught on film engaging in offensive and suspect behaviour just a few blocks from Church-Wellesley Village.

CityNews released a cellphone video on Jan 24, 2017, of Toronto police repeatedly kicking and Tasering a man while he’s lying on his stomach while restrained by two officers. The incident occurred this morning near Dundas and Church Streets.

CityNews Toronto/YouTube

Two other officers tell a witness filming the incident to stop recording or they’ll seize his phone as evidence. And to top it all off, one of those officers warned bystanders that “he’s going to spit in your face and you’re going to get AIDS.”

According to The Eyeopener, the man being arrested had punched one of the officers and kicked out the window of a police cruiser. But by the time the video starts rolling, the man is already on the ground.

During the arrest, officers threaten to seize the cellphone of the man filming the incident because he claimed to be a witness.

And then it got really weird.

“He’s going to spit in your face, you’re going to get AIDS,” says one of the officers. “Stop recording or I’m going to seize your phone as evidence and then you’re going to lose your phone.”

Xtra has reached out to the police for comment, and will publish their full response when we hear back. But until then, let’s break this down a little bit.

The video clearly shows a man who is restrained and is not at that moment a threat to anyone, even if he had been earlier. A cop uses a dangerous weapon (remember, Tasers can kill) to make the man “relax.” The same cop kicks him in his buttocks in a way that doesn’t appear to have any legitimate purpose.

And then there’s the cops threatening to seize a witness’ phone. There is no obligation for witnesses to hand over their recording devices to the police. There is no law in Canada that prohibits people from openly photographing police. A police officer who says that you must hand over your phone for merely taking a photo or filming is lying.

As for the AIDS comment, there is so much here that is wrong. First, you cannot transmit HIV through saliva, and you certainly can’t transmit “AIDS.” But the comment is also revealing.

As far as I can tell, there are two possible reasons why the police officer would make such a statement.

Either he was aware of the man’s HIV status, and was casually revealing it to a witness. But according to a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision, police can only reveal a person’s HIV status after they’ve been formally charged with a crime and if it’s for a “consistent purpose.” Clearly neither of those conditions were satisfied in this case.

The alternative, and in my opinion more likely, reason is that the officer was profiling the man being arrested for his assumed sexual orientation, race, sex work or drug use. In any other workplace, that kind of comment would get you fired.

The issue of police inclusion in the Pride parade was the rare issue that united the editorial boards of the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun. And it should be noted that many members of the LGBT community have been making good faith arguments for continued police participation.

But if the Toronto police continue to engage in this kind of behaviour, in full public view, accompanied by intimidation of bystanders and despicable, serophobic commentary, they shouldn’t be surprised that some people don’t want to be marching beside them.