Category Archives: AS21stC 2020

Sapphira: Surprise Activist Extraordinaire

I’ve been doing volunteer work and activism for a decade now, but my wife Sapphira Charles’ newfound activism is putting me to shame.  It’s been very encouraging watching her go from 0 to 100 in the space of a couple months, and becoming a voice in our community and someone to rally around.  Through her actions the last few months I’ve witnessed such a saga of both devastating racism, alive and well at home and abroad in 2020, and uplifting unity and humanity, as our communities came together in support.

My wife had never attended a protest or rally before this year, but CoVID had us all reevaluating our lives and she felt moved by all the furor around the injustice of George Floyd’s murder. Her first ever march was the Black Lives Matter march downtown on May 30, 2020. Well that seemed to light a spark inside her and fostered a newfound solidarity with her fellow black community.

Then a woman from the Beaches decided to have a Black Lives Matter march for George Floyd.  Well, being a white woman, she thought she’d best practise some due diligence and contact our closest BLM group.  This happened to be a Toronto student group of BLM (BLM across the continent is not a cohesive centrally-controlled group) who strangely told the woman NOT to have the protest. 

For some reason they felt being a white woman in a predominantly white neighbourhood that she should not lead the protest march, even going so far as to suggest a white neighbourhood was not the place for it.  They also indicated in general BLM groups are discouraging protests because of the potential for violent opposition from white power groups.  But that’s an issue happening in the US, nowhere in Canada has seen such developments.  However, feeling it wasn’t her place, she cancelled the march.

Well my wife would have none of it!  I had helped Sapphira prepare for the protest, lending her my reusable protest sign (dry erase marker on corrugated plastic, sturdy and you can reuse forever) and she was all geared up to go and totally deflated when it was cancelled via Instagram a mere 2 hours before the event. 

We both agreed that a predominantly white neighbourhood is precisely where a march is needed, and if being led by a black person was what was missing, Sapphira surely fit the bill.  So she jumped on it, communicated with the woman who was going to run it, re-promoted the event, and together we whipped up some speeches and devised some chants.  In the space of two hours she went from being about to attend her second protest march ever to leading her first protest ever.

Sapphira did really well, surprising herself and me with her orating.  She spoke strongly, with passion and intensity.  Most people would not have guessed she’s a hard core introvert who detests public speaking.  Arriving at the Kew Gardens gazebo at the end of march, a few people said some words and shared their stories, and gave thanks to my wife for ensuring the march stayed alive.  Beach Metro covered it here. But as the march was so last minute many people were clamouring for another one so they could attend too.

Photo by Shah Ruby

So began my wife’s foray into full-blown activism.  She set up another protest, started the Facebook group #BeachersforBlackLives, and we started preparing.  This time we were going to get my parents to watch our toddler son, he didn’t last really well through the first one.  Sapphira wrote a more comprehensive speech, we procured a megaphone, and she formally organized speakers this time.

The first protest maybe had a hundred+ people, the second was definitely 300+ and a smashing success.  After safely marching the same route, from Williamson Rd school, down Glen Manor, across the boardwalk, and up to Kew Gardens gazebo, the speakers related their own very personal experiences with racism, some of whom grew up in the Beaches and suffered through racist incidents here.  It was a very powerful display, and speakers couldn’t thank my wife enough for the opportunity to speak their truth to an attentive sympathetic audience.

Well, I should have known that wasn’t the end of my wife’s budding activism.  Motivated by the growing membership of the Facebook group and making connections in the racialized community of East York, she found herself being invited to talk at other events and participate in other groups.

A horrible racist incident happened in Dentonia Park, when an interracial couple were assaulted and called racist insults by a disgruntled white man.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the police refused to investigate the assault.  So another protest sprung up in front of 55 Division, and they asked Sapphira to speak.  She gave another rousing speech and further entrenched herself as a local activist.

But it doesn’t end there!  A new Instagram group sprung up, seeming to mirror the #BeachersforBlackLives Facebook group, and was holding their own protest starting at Leuty Lifeguard house.  Sapphira was a bit confused at this seeming competing group, and couldn’t understand who they were or why they wanted to hold yet a third protest march in the area. 

Upon investigating the group she found out it was a couple of young female students who used to live in the area and they had no idea there was another group or that previous protests had happened.  In fact, they seemed to start the whole thing on a lark and weren’t sure how to organize their march.  Cue Sapphira, in for the save again.

Due to my extensive experience with protests and rallies I kept asking Sapphira questions about the plans for the protest, and found the students had never really done anything like this before.  Sapphira took the reins a bit, coached them in some of the details they needed to cover, and even arranged for the police to escort the march down Queen St. 

The young women, well-meaning to be sure, never thought to request a police escort, yet were planning to block Queen St to march the entire length of the Beaches from Woodbine to RC Harris.  Despite being rookies off to a shaky start, with my wife’s help the young protesters managed to get even more solidarity out of the Beaches.

At this point Sapphira was firmly on the inside of black activism in the Beaches.  She was part of the Community Solidarity Against Racism in Construction (CSARC) conversations about the nooses left on the construction site of Michael Garron Hospital, eventually culminating in a zoom call with the mayor.

Side note, when Ellis Don erected a plaque claiming a “commitment to inclusive diversity” I immediately looked on their website to see just how “diverse” their company was and created the following graphic to expose their hypocrisy:

Sapphira also joined the steering committee planning an event in Dentonia Park to counter the racist assault incident there.  If only this story ended here, but racism reared its ugly head in our neighbourhood again.

A young black boy playing with a Nerf gun in Ivan Forrest Gardens on Queen St had the police called on him.  Eight officers stormed the small park, startling and shocking the boy and his mother.  They referred to the boy as a “suspect”, but then thankfully backed down quickly when they saw the truth. 

The real question is:  how does anyone mistake an 11-yr old boy with a neon Nerf gun as some kind of armed threat?  A police officer in my family suggested the police should look into charges of public mischief and coveting a false message by means of telecommunications for the caller.  The police have been investigating, and have identified the caller as someone local.  I’d just love to have the person outed and shamed to the point they never show their racism again for fear of the public outcry.

Another local black mom who was appalled by the story decided to hold a Nerf gun fight in the park to show just how silly the 911 call was.  My wife followed it up the next week with a dance party!  “Love in the Park” is all about dancing out our fears and embracing love, showing solidarity and respect for each other in the most universal way humans interact with music.  Global was there and she got on the 6:00 news.

Not long after came the Dentonia Park event.  My wife wanted to do some artivism for the event, some kind of banner with a message, and my suggestion was put up some treated plywood on the fence ringing the park, put a message in masking tape, have the community paint over it, and then reveal the message.  Well the event kinda took a few twists and turns, there was a lot of discussion on where to hold the event (Dentonia Park is large) and decisions about appropriate materials, and in the end it was done on Tyvek that had grommets added to it.  Not the ideal material to attach to a fence on a windy day but in the end it held up and the result was quite stunning.

Well the banners didn’t last 24 hours, the next day they were completely ripped off and found in a nearby dumpster.  The organizers banded together and put them up a second time, just to have them ripped apart and scattered this time.  At first it seemed like a hateful response to the messages of love, but it turns out the fence they used was part of a cricket field, and the posters blocked the view for spectators that would use the benches there.  So it’s impossible to say who trashed it when for what reason, but at least we have all the pictures and video to remember it by. Now Sapphira is heading the permanent art installation/mural for Reclaim Dentonia, and also a jury member for the Leuty Boathouse mural project.

The past few months has seen Beaches-East York prove that when racism rears its ugly head, and it still frequently does, we band together against it.  My wife has found her voice in the tumult, and with the help of allies they are uniting more and more people. Let’s keep up the pressure and good vibes and ensure that it’s clear the Beaches will NOT tolerate racism, bigotry, or discrimination.

Adam Smith

Mask Hysteria

Below is the letter I wrote to City Council expressing my concerns about the mask law and the behaviour it is encouraging.


I’m writing to City Council hoping to address my deepening concern that the new mask rules seem to be fueling discriminatory behaviour and that they do not conform to the recommendations of Sick Kids Hospital.

Sick Kids Hospital recommends that masks not be mandatory for children under 5:  “Masking for children depends on many factors, including age, ability, willingness and safety. In general, we will mask patients age 6 and older, but if your child is not able or willing to wear a mask, then they will not have to do so…  Masks should not generally be used for children under age 6 who are not able to understand how to wear a mask or communicate if they become distressed.”  Not only is it difficult to explain to a toddler why you want them to wear a mask, it’s impossible to get a resistant toddler to wear one.  And people are discriminating against my son and refusing him healthcare because of it.  I apologize for the length of this email, but I felt it prudent to include some examples of this growing pattern of disturbing behaviour.

On June 15, a mere 5 days after his 3rd birthday and a couple weeks before the mask rules came into effect, the receptionist of an eye doctor in our neighbourhood denied my son’s appointment because my wife could not get him to wear a mask.  For days my son had an ongoing redness in an eye that soon spread to the other eye, so by remote our family doctor got us a referral to a local eye doctor.  Upon seeing my son without a mask, the receptionist refused to let him in.  My wife tried to get our rambunctious willful toddler to wear a mask, to no avail, and the receptionist would not allow him to see the doctor.  Our family doctor said this was not appropriate, and then directed us to Sick Kids’ recommendation.

People are feeling empowered to impose their subjective extreme interpretation of proper mask behaviour on others, and it’s becoming a common occurrence to see employees of businesses exercising what they see as lawful authority over others.  There seems to be a new culture budding, where fanatical mask wearers feel fully justified in forcing others to conform not to the law, but to their personal preferred behaviour.   The bylaw states that employees must be “trained in the requirements of the policy and this By-law” but from my observations that does not seem to be the case.

An increasingly common encounter is the employee keen to pounce on anything they see as a violation and eager to deny service if a person does not conform to their interpretation of mask laws.  Like the ice cream store clerk who, despite my wife and I wearing masks, immediately pounced and tried to deny my son entry for not wearing one, until her manager told her it’s ok, he’s too young.  Or the cashier at Metro last weekend, where I’ve been shopping throughout the lockdown, for the first ever not allowing me to bag my groceries while he was working the cash.

I knew the routine.  I can’t put my reusable bags onto the counter, I must take the groceries and bag them in my cart.  But then he told me I couldn’t do that.  Confused, I asked why?  He said because if I bag my groceries I will be less than 2 metres from him.  Even though it would be barely within 2 metres, I said that’s what mask wearing is for, for situations when social distancing is difficult.  He said it doesn’t matter, this is for his safety.  I told him COVID is not like fleas, it can’t just jump off of me, we’re both wearing masks and I wasn’t even facing in his direction at all.  It mattered not, not only did he refuse to let me bag my groceries, he then dictated where I was to stand.  While I waited I read the posted store policy on social distancing and masks, and nowhere did it indicate any policy on bagging groceries.  I asked him about this, he admitted it’s not store policy, it’s HIS policy.  Then while I bagged my groceries, with my back to him, he stood aside from the cash as if getting any closer was going to infect him.

There clearly is a lack of education on the purpose of mask-wearing and an ignorance of how the virus spreads, and it would seem many people do not see masks as protecting others, but incorrectly as protecting themselves.  How else do you explain the very frequent sight of people walking alone outdoors in the blazing heat, no one else around for blocks, wearing a mask?  Or people who are obviously not cab or Uber drivers wearing a mask while alone in their car, often with the windows rolled up?  Or cyclists wearing masks as they zoom by people at +20km/hr?  There seems to be an impression amongst people that COVID can be easily caught in the air, even outdoor air, as opposed to being spread primarily by close contact with an infected individual indoors.

Governments, especially our provincial one, were quick to whip up hysteria in order to scare enough people to elicit a critical mass of compliant behaviour to quell the spread.  And quell the spread we did, the mask laws were ironically put in place after our numbers started bottoming out.  But now there seems to be no action to dispel the panic, in fact the new mask laws seem only to add to it.  People are getting all kinds of erroneous ideas in their heads and there seems to be no action to counter it, so they continue behaving in an extreme fashion while believing they are the reasonable ones.

There is a very strange combination of paranoia and power-tripping going on, and people seem to feel fully empowered and justified in this behaviour.  The lockdown has already had detrimental effects on mental health, was there any consideration given to the psychological and social consequences of enshrining into law a culture of mask wearing?  Was there any thought that this will empower the ignorant to force others to their preferred behaviour?  What happens if after the law is lifted some businesses decide to keep the requirement in place? 

Here’s an extreme but plausible example of how this discrimination could become a serious problem:  A low income single mother, who can’t find anyone to watch her child and can’t afford a food delivery service, needs to go to the grocery store.  But her toddler won’t wear a mask.  Well now every business is fully justified in denying her entry, and her and her toddler go hungry until they can convince someone to shop for them.  And as pretty much all our businesses are private, they have the right to deny entry.  Or what about someone who truly cannot wear a mask, or the other exemptions in the bylaw that require no proof they are exempt?  Businesses seem to have the right to deny ANYONE, including valid exemptions.  This is the culture I see breeding, a culture of division between hysterical mask wearers and everyone else who doesn’t conform to their ideology of mask-wearing and social distancing protocol.

The questions I have for city council are:

  • Will Council amend the law to conform to the age recommendations of Sick Kids Hospital?
  • Will Council put out more public education about the science of virus spread and mask-wearing, and also information requesting businesses not to discriminate based on subjective interpretations of mask-wearing protocols?
  • Is there to be any recourse for people denied by businesses unfairly discriminating against them or enforcing an extreme interpretation of mask laws?
  • If Toronto’s numbers continue on a downward trajectory, will council consider lifting the law before the Sept 30 expiry?

I know there’s a lot of paranoia about a second wave and all efforts are meant to prevent that.  But there’s a larger picture on the ground that is emerging, and it’s tearing at the very fabric of society.  We cannot allow mask laws to become a justification for the fanatical to impose their will on anyone who does not behave as fanatically as they do.  I hope Council will give the unintended repercussions of this law closer consideration, and will ensure it cannot be used to unfairly discriminate against people.

Thank you,

Adam Smith

The ongoing inaction of 55 Division

Picture:  Protest in front of 55 Division, July 6, 2020

I went to the protest in front of 55 Division on July 6, and found the story of Mark Austin resonated with me.  Not because I’ve been the victim of racial discrimination, but because I too have been assaulted, multiple times, only to have 55 Division take no action.  And it seems to be a common story.

The first time I was assaulted was by a drunk person with mental health issues (I only learned that later) on Queen St.  Despite giving him a wide berth he shoved me on the sidewalk, and when I called him on it he got belligerent.  When he got right in my face reeking of beer and spittle flying at me I yelled for him to back off, at which point he grabbed me.  I grabbed him back and threw him away from me and called the police.  Somewhere in the 5 second scuffle my ear was ripped and was bleeding.

Despite the sound of him in the background yelling at me the police clearly saw no urgency and showed up 20 mins later.  As I was advised not to follow him, he was long gone when the police did arrive.  They saw my ear, did not take any pictures, and took a bare bones statement.  They did not speak to the witnesses who saw it happen and waited with me.

I then turned to social media, drawing a picture of my assaulter that very night, and got a hit.  Locals knew his name and even exactly where he lived and had stories of his other disruptions.  I relayed all this information to the police, their response?  “He’s known to us.”  And that was it, they took no further action.

The second time I was assaulted was when a young woman nearly caused an accident with me driving recklessly on her e-bike.  When I called her out she punched me in the face.  Yes, a 20-something woman punched me in the face in broad daylight at Wineva and Queen.  Now, this assault did get the proper attention but I believe the only reason was because it was very public, multiple witnesses helped me detain the woman as she tried to flee the scene, and a detective just happened to be getting a coffee at Juice & Java and came out to see the commotion.  This time they did take pictures of my bruised eye, they did take action against the woman, although they convinced me not to press charges if she gave an apology.  I agreed, but it was the lamest apology ever, “I’m sorry my driving scared you.”  Pfft, but whatever, the police actually acted.

Third time I was assaulted was by an Amazon driver!  In his entitled mind he thought it was ok to park on Woodbine facing the wrong way and blocking the bike lane when he had AN ENTIRE ROW of available parking right where he blocked the lane.  He literally could have just pulled in three feet to the left and we would never have spoken.  I railed on him for blocking the lane when he has available parking right there, of course he cared not.  I slapped my hand on his van window as I angrily went around him, and he saw that as justification for running after me, grabbing me from behind, and yanking me off my bicycle in the street.  I turned around and asked him what the hell he thinks he’s doing?  Then he asked me to fight!  I stared at him in disbelief, and said, “That’s assault, I’m calling the police”.

Well, as you might guess, there was complete reluctance to do anything.  I gave them all the info, all they asked was, “Are you injured?  No?  We’ll see if there’s anyone in the area.”  And that was it.  A man felt entitled to pull me bodily from my bike onto the street because I slapped my palm on his illegally parked company vehicle, and I guess he is entitled to act that way, because clearly there are no consequences to such actions.

I’m not alone in this observation.  Through my various interactions with people around the neighbourhood over the years I’ve heard a few stories of 55 Division officers simply not wanting to follow up on assaults, brushing them off and refusing to take any further action.

As one less egregious but very appropriate example, this past weekend I was on the beach.  For the sake of the officer I will leave out details that might identify them (despite my extreme disappointment with their behaviour).  The beach was super busy, as it has been this last month since restrictions started lifting and people felt comfortable to venture out.  A motorized boat illegally pulled into the swimming area inside the buoys and came up to the shore.  Now thankfully there was no incident, but all day long I watched toddlers, including my own, frolicking in the shallows.  I was incensed the boaters felt they were entitled to violate that space with their boat, and this happened to be very close to where a man drowned a couple weeks ago.  I knew from earlier an officer was close by and went to speak to them.

Well, this officer was busy the last half hour lounging on a park bench on the boardwalk chatting with some people that seemed like friends of theirs.  And I mean LOUNGING, they had their arms spread wide and were pretty much reclined on the bench.  I approached and told the officer a motorized boat had illegally pulled into the swimming area.  Well to my consternation all I got was resistance from the officer, “Well, did anything happen?” they asked.

“No,” I replied, “but they’re not supposed to be there, it’s a swimming area inside the buoys, no motorized vehicles allowed.”

“Come on,” the officer took another tack, “Everyone’s just trying to have a good time.”

At this point my frustration was becoming clear, as I said, “It doesn’t matter, that’s where small children swim, including my toddler son.”  With VERY obvious reluctance the officer pulled themselves off the bench to go check it out.  They then spent the next 20 mins chatting amicably with the boaters, after which the boat driver, alone without a spotter (the other boater got off on the beach), backed out from the beach using their motor and went on their way.  I regularly snorkel in that area, thank goodness no one was in the path of that boat as it backed out.  My extended family witnessed this behaviour with me and were equally appalled.

As one last strange example, I once had the police show up at my door.  My wife and I were protesting a neighbour chopping down a mature tree, because the posted reason was “poor location”, which simply sounds like the owner didn’t like the fact they bought a house with an 80 year old willow tree in their yard.  Despite the fact I had never threatened or even spoken to this person face-to-face, they somehow convinced the police I was some kind of threat and needed to be spoken to.  They showed up at my door, talked to me for a few minutes, then went on their way.  What baffles me is why are the police willing to show up at my door when I’ve done nothing wrong, whereas it seems difficult to get them to follow up on actual crimes?  Could it be that the person who called the police is a home owner and everyone I know who’s been ignored are renters?  What does it take to convince the police to check on someone who’s done nothing wrong when they refuse to investigate people who are in fact committing crimes?

Now, I know this behaviour is not indicative of the TPS as a whole, nor even of police in general.  I know some excellent, highly ethical, and principled police officers, my brother for one, who would never dream of acting like that while on duty.  I’ve also heard through my police connections that in the TPS itself other divisions see 55 as more or less the slackers of the TPS, which seems to support the behaviour residents are witnessing.  I can’t speak for other divisions, but it would seem 55 Division has a long history of not wanting to follow up on certain crimes.

Is there an explanation for this behaviour that’s not being relayed to the public?  Is this common in other areas?  The possible reasons that come to my mind are perhaps:

  • Officers know from experience that certain crimes without ample witnesses are incredibly hard to prosecute, and so are a waste of their time and the courts
  • Officers know how overloaded the courts are and perhaps have been instructed to do their best to avoid taking actions that will result in more time in court
  • Officers know how incredibly strained their time and budgets are and are forced to make decisions as to what will get attention and what is less serious and has to be let go

Or, worst case scenarios:

  • Officers know the extra paperwork involved and simply avoid doing the work
  • Officers do not want to spend their shift doing all the interviewing and leg work

Whatever the explanation is, the people deserve to hear it.  There is an expectation that our police service actually fulfills their function as serving the people by upholding the law, and when that expectation is left unfulfilled time and again, people are left angry and disenfranchised.

What I heard at that protest, and how I’ve felt as well, is that our police are not listening to us and not communicating with us either.  We are left in the dark feeling helpless, powerless, and unprotected.  Perhaps this would not be so if more officers actually lived in the areas they police, perhaps there is more at play than the public is aware of and there are deeper issues unbeknownst to us.  Problem is, we don’t know, there is an ongoing lack of action that is left unexplained.

We need police; they are the backbone of a just and equal society.  But when it starts to feel like they aren’t there for us, that there seems to be justice for some but not all, it breeds contempt and anger and disillusionment.  If there are deeper problems holding the police back, whether lack of funding or time, they need to be honest, but if it turns out there is a culture of police unilaterally deciding when and whom to police, that needs to be outed as well.  We cannot move forward without trust and understanding, and 55 Division and the TPS need to appreciate the optics of refusing to investigate or prosecute crimes in our neighbourhood.

Defund the TPS Mounted Unit first


My name is Adam Smith, I’m a lifelong resident born and raised in Toronto.  I am requesting Toronto City Council to fully defund and dismantle the Mounted Police Unit in Toronto as a starting point to making cuts to the police budget.  In the 21st century in a modern city like Toronto mounted police are an obsolete anachronism, they serve little policing purpose beyond intimidation, it is risky forced labour for the horses, and their cost can easily be cut without affecting crucial police departments.

As anyone in a government service will tell you, across the board cuts are always detrimental to the service as a whole.  Using a targeted cut to a specific department that will not impact the efficacy of the overall service is the perfect way to reduce the budget while leaving the service intact.

There is simply no situation in which a mounted police officer cannot be replaced with an officer travelling by other means, what small advantages mounted police have in a tiny number of very specific situations do not outweigh their limitations or risks.  Their limited functions make them an encumbrance rather than an asset, and it is not safe to include a large potentially dangerous animal as part of policing.  I have personally witnessed two near disasters with mounted police attempting crowd control in the Beaches.  The first incident was when a fight broke out at the end of the Beaches Jazz Festival, and a mounted officer actually attempted for a moment to pursue the fighters into the crowd on his horse, until thankfully he decided not to risk trampling people.

The second incident was even more concerning.  After Canada Day fireworks on the beach one year, three mounted officers started clearing out the park.  The lead officer was incredibly aggressive, yelling at families and young children, “Leave!  Get out of here!  Go home!  The park is closed!”  Anyone who has attended these fireworks knows that after they are done, kids and teens start lighting their personal fireworks.  The lead officer’s horse got spooked, and less than two metres from a woman sitting on her blanket the horse started stomping wildly in a circle.  The officer could not regain control of his horse for a few minutes, while children started crying in fear as their families scooped them up and people started running away from the horse.  The three officers and their steeds spent the rest of the night on an empty stretch of beach, serving no purpose at all.

I know the mounted police are loved by many, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for the city to continue funding them, nor that it’s right to force an animal into police patrolling and the various risky situations that it poses.  Risky for the horses, risky for the officers, and risky for the public.  Three horses have died on duty in the last 20 years, and unlike human officers these horses don’t get to choose to put themselves in life-threatening situations.  This not only saves us the cost of housing, feeding, caring for, cleaning up after, and purchasing 25+ horses, it also frees up 40 officers for other duties.  I implore city council to defund the mounted unit as the logical and compassionate place to start budget cuts. 

Thank you for your consideration,

Adam Smith