From the Streets: What Would You Have Me Do?

It was less than two weeks after the ‘fateful van incident,’ as it has been coined, where  a male mowed down 16 people with his vehicle on Yonge Street, killing 10 pedestrians. At the time, the news mistakenly jumped to report of a terrorist attack, which was later found to be incorrect. It was an act of misogyny, not terrorism.


But, can you blame the news, having watched people mowed downs in the streets of Paris, Brussels, Berlin and London in the last few years. All acts of terrorism, done by the glorified ‘lone wolves’ of extremists. If the driver had not been Middle Eastern in appearance, would the press have even thought it a terrorist act? Would you? Here it was, less than two weeks later at 07:30 am and this was the radio call I was attending:

Male, white, 30’s, possibly Middle Eastern, on northbound train watching an Isis video of a beheading. He has a huge duffel bag, camouflage in colour and is wearing black jacket, neon orange t-shirt and a baseball cap, black with an orange symbol of a wolf.

As Ralph and I race to the scene to intercept the train, we start a discussion about the call. “We can’t do squat,” Ralph says. “We have to stop and investigate him,” I respond. “For what? Watching social media on the subway?” He continues, “We can’t stop and investigate anyone for anything suspicious anymore. That’s called carding and we can’t do it.” He’s right.  “But it’s not exactly social media Ralph. It’s like going to an airport and screaming bomb. It’s risky and you’ll likely be detained and arrested.”  Ralph responds, “You know if he tells us to go rub salt, there’s nothing we can do. That’s what the public has chosen.” I know he’s right. “But if he gets off that train and leaves his duffel bag behind and it explodes, what would the public have thought of us for letting him walk away? We have to do something Ralph!”

We sat in silence as we raced to the train. My brain was spinning. What are the TTC by-laws and was he breaking any rules? What about the dreaded Public Works Safety Act that the public hated during the G20? Maybe there is a law there he is breaching?  They stop and detain people at the airport for suspicious behavior, so where do they get their authority? If I knew, I could possibly use that as a peace officer. Then there’s that hat with the wolf symbol. Does it represent the lone wolf of terrorism? Wow, maybe he’s watching the video for courage and IS about to harm that train full of people right now? I am thinking hard of some way to legally stop and investigate this young man for a suspicious act. The sirens of another scout car joining us in the race across the city breaks my thoughts.

“He could just be a University student on the way to class who is curious and is watching a video, albeit, in a stupid place,” I say aloud. Ralph nods in agreement. It could very well be true as this train is heading towards the main University campus and it’s the right time for students travelling to class. Ralph cautions me again, “Just remember, if he doesn’t want to play with us, there’s nothing we can do.” I looked at him and simply said “We have to investigate him. The complainant said he’d meet us at the collector’s booth.”

I wondered, did we receive the call because he was perceived as white, possibly Middle Eastern? Would I, or you as the reader, been wondering and questioning, if not for that description? What if he had been clearly identified as white, like Irish white, and a short little fellow with bright red hair?  Or what if it had been an older female, say 50ish, possible Russian looking with faded blond hair and blue eyes? Would we have even received the call? Would we have labelled them as someone nefarious in nature? Possibly a threat to our society?

Maybe it was just a curious University student, sparked to investigate further terrorist activities because recent events brought some fears to our City. Or maybe it was someone who had become radicalized and was truly an imminent threat.

So, tell me, what would you have me do? As an officer in this city, what would you want and hope that I would do in this situation? I’d like to know your thoughts. Because as we went lights and sirens to this call, with really no authority, I wondered about the optics from many angles. And I wondered, what would you have me do?

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