Mayor John Tory may not portray himself as a tough guy, but unlike Community Safety Minister Michael Tibollo, he doesn’t need a bulletproof vest to walk through Jane and Finch or any other Toronto neighbourhood stigmatized by gun violence.
He said he’s been on around 10 police ride-alongs over the years and has never requested a bulletproof vest nor has he been asked to wear one.
“I’ve been in those neighbourhoods many times and never felt my safety was at risk,” Tory said on Thursday.
“I’ve never worn a bulletproof vest, ever. I can’t imagine … if somebody said, ‘You’d better wear one.'”
Tibollo has faced criticism and calls to resign as head of Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate after he said he donned a bulletproof vest during a police ride-along in the Jane and Finch area earlier this month.
“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,” he said during question period at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Tibollo told reporters he regrets using the wording he did. He said he would be reaching out to the Jane-Finch community.
“If I had to do it over again, obviously I’ve learned the way you say things should be perhaps more careful because I honestly didn’t think I was being offensive,” he said.
“I think when they finally meet me and get an opportunity to talk to me I think they’ll understand that it was never meant to be any kind of an offensive comment.”
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash told CityNews police “err on the side of caution” and often provide the vests during ride-alongs.
That hasn’t been Tory’s experience.
“I do well remember being on one of my first ride-alongs in Toronto a number of years ago and we pulled up in an alleyway behind a place that they said was a crack house,” he recalled. “It was one of those dark, foreboding places … but I wasn’t asked to and I didn’t wear a bulletproof vest. Nobody asked me. Those are my own experiences.”
Tory also noted that photos appear to show Premier Doug Ford on the same ride-along as Tibollo, but without the extra protection.
“I did notice the premier wasn’t wearing one either and he seemed to be there,” Tory said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was harsh in her criticism of Tibollo, calling his comments “inexcusably racist” and saying he wasn’t fit to head the province’s Anti-Racism Directorate.
On Thursday, advocacy group Jane Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP) sent out a release condemning Tibollo’s “racist and discriminatory comments” and urging him to step down from his anti-racism post.
“JFAAP calls on Michael Tibollo to resign from this portfolio and demands a formal apology from the provincial government,” the group said in a statement. “Instead of scapegoating and stereotyping our community, stop cutting community programs and services.”
Tory may not have donned a bulletproof vest, but he doesn’t think Tibollo should be raked over the coals for admitting he did.
“I think this stuff about people resigning gets overused,” he said.
“I also believe — and I’m just going to be candid with you — people are inclined … to throw the word ‘racist’ around with respect to all kinds of things of that sort that go on.”
After seeming to weigh in on the Queen’s Park controversy, Tory then deftly extricated himself from it.
“I’m not commenting one way or the other on what this minister or any other person said,” he said. “But I am just saying I told you my own experience with respect to bulletproof vests and not having worn one or been asked to wear one. But you’ll have to judge the rest of it. I’m not getting involved in it.”