Members of Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLM) are refuting the police’s version of the events that occurred during and following the arrest of three protesters charged for defacing statues during a march on Saturday.
A 35-year-old man, a 47-year-old woman and a 35-year-old woman, all of Toronto, were charged with three counts of mischief under $5,000 and conspiracy to commit a summary offence after pink paint was splashed on statues of Egerton Ryerson, John A. Macdonald and King Edward VII.
Two of the protesters were held at 55 Division while a third was held at 14 Division
Police said two of the people arrested had been released around 5:30 p.m., but later said they declined to sign the release forms to leave custody and “they will be released as soon as they sign, and we would like them to do so.”
Saron Gebresellassi, a Toronto lawyer who represents the woman detained at 55 Division, said the police lied about releasing the protesters.
“They were denied their constitutional rights to counsel and for hours they were detained without charges and without access to a lawyer,” she said during a press conference Sunday morning.
She added that over the course of 12 hours she was able to have two phone calls with her client, one around 3:15 p.m. and another closer to midnight.
“This is unheard of,” she said referring to their hours-long detention. Her client was released just before 2 a.m. and the other two protesters were released around 3 a.m.
“You know that with white people, they book them and release them within an hour,” said Syrus Marcus Ware from BLM.
“We have seen less actions for when we die,” said Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of BLM Toronto, amid shouts of “shame” from the crowd.
Over the course of the press conference, Diverlus, reiterated calls to defund the police and reinvest those funds into community safety programs.
“It is important that you recognize that we are here because we are dying. Black people are dying everywhere, Indigenous people are dying everywhere,” said BLM member Ravyn Wngz. “It is shameful, egregious, disgusting, frustrating, exhausting to be here fighting for our humanity again,” she added.
With respect to the charges laid against the protesters, Ware said that the statues that were splashed with paint are symbols of racism and colonialism that need to be torn down.
“The biggest symbols of racism and colonialism that we need to tear down in our society is the police and the prison system. If we’re going to start with a monument, lets tear that down. Defund, disarm dismantle abolish,” she said.
All three protesters are scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 30.
“I don’t want to do deal making, I want all of these charges dropped,” said Gebresellassi.
On Sunday evening, police Chief Mark Saunders released a statement countering what he called a “false narrative about the access to counsel and the custody of these three individuals.”
The police release says each protester was told they were eligible for release by signing a promise to appear in court. All three refused the release conditions which police say are “standard.”
In addition, the release says each had access to counsel between 3:30 and 3:59 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, as soon as their preferred counsel was selected and “responded to repeated calls from police.”
Saunders reiterated that two of the protesters said they would choose to be released but later chose to remain in custody “for many hours longer than was required and in to the evening and early morning hours.”
The two women were released from 55 Division at 1:09 a.m. and 1:47 a.m. and the man was released from 14 Division at 2:29 a.m.
Police say all the proceedings were recorded and will be provided as evidence in court.
“It is unfortunate that a narrative has been manufactured that does not further the very real issues we are facing with anti-Black systemic racism, and the dialogue around the police and the community,” said Saunders.