An Ontario minister tasked with fighting racism is being criticized by his political opponents for a comment that NDP Leader Andrea Horwath calls racist.
Michael Tibollo, the province’s minister of community safety and correctional services, described a recent visit to Toronto’s Jane and Finch community with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, which he says included a “horrifying” stop to a crack house.
The minister pointed out that he wore a bulletproof vest during the police ride-along.
“I went out to Jane and Finch, put on a bulletproof vest and spent 7 o’clock to 1 o’clock in the morning visiting sites that had previously had bullet-ridden people killed in the middle of the night,” Tibollo said during question period at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.
He was responding to an Opposition question about controversial police street checks, also known as carding.
The minister’s vest was provided by Toronto police, who say the cautionary step was part of riding along with officers.
“When police do a ride-along, there is a safety assessment,” a Toronto police spokesperson said in a statement. “Since we always err on the side of caution, there is a presumption that the person doing the ride along will be provided with a vest.”
In comments later in the day, Tibollo said he visited parts of the neighbourhood affected by gun violence and met with community members about drug use. Tibollo said he and Ford visited a crack house where he “walked over broken crack pipes.”
“They’re surrounded by drug deals, one of which I saw take place while I was there … It was absolutely horrifying,” Tibollo said.
Ford did not wear a bulletproof vest for the occasion. The premier typically travels with an entourage of plainclothes police officers.
Tibollo’s comments about the bulletproof vest ignited backlash from Horwath, who demanded that the minister apologize.
“It is a racist comment and it’s one that he should apologize for and withdraw immediately,” Horwath said.
NDP MPP Kevin Yarde agreed that the comment wasn’t appropriate.
“I had to actually ask members next to me ‘did I actually hear what I actually heard?'” Yarde said. “I thought it was a racist comment.”
Yarde asked for a special adjournment debate late in the day in hopes of demanding answers from the minister. Tibollo did not show up, but another PC MPP stood in his place and suggested that the NDP was taking a cheap shot.
Deputy Premier Christine Elliott defended her PC colleague.
“I think what he is speaking about is needing to go to communities to understand what’s happening, to understand how people have been hit by violence, gun violence in their neighbourhood,” Elliott said.
Tibollo’s riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge has experienced its own share of gun violence. Asked by a reporter why he doesn’t wear a bulletproof vest in his own riding, the minister said, “To be honest with you, to put on a bulletproof vest anywhere in this city is alarming.”
Former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board Alok Mukherjee questioned whether the vest was proper police protocol.
“Since when is this a standard procedure? I did not wear a vest in my ridealongs all over the city,” Mukherjee said on Twitter.
With a report from CTV Toronto’s Colin D’Mello
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