GRAVENHURST — You know the wheels are coming off lockdown enforcement when the police are targeting a “12-year-old” potential violator in a skateboard park.
And a free society is skating on thin ice when videos show up appearing to show a kid being pushed to the ground by a police officer.
What occurred in Gravenhurst is exactly what people were afraid would happen when the province brought in new guidelines to give police power to randomly stop people during the Ontario-wide stay-at-home order. Since those powers were backed off on, and most police services indicated they had no interest in enforcing them, no one dreamed something as ugly as this appears would still happen.
But it did at Youth Park at 275 Winewood Ave. E. on Sunday.
Perhaps the OPP didn’t get the memo? Or maybe their instructions are to still to do random stops?
Most people thought such interactions could happen on the highways or at border points. Not at a skateboard park. Not in playgrounds. And not involving police in confrontations with kids.
The video appears to show a boy on a scooter being knocked down during a conversation with an OPP officer. The audio of the incident offers some insight.
“Don’t touch me,” a youth can be heard saying. “What are you doing?”
Another young person can be heard saying “he’s 12 years old” and “we are trying to leave, man.”
The audio is believed to be one of the officers saying, “He failed to identify” and “You don’t talk to an adult like this.”
It has not been confirmed if the boy is 12, but in the video, it is clear this is a youth that is much smaller than the police officer. Whether the boy was thrown from the scooter or there is another explanation will be part of the investigation. A fair probe to gain all context from all sides of this is necessary.
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique has asked Peel Regional Police to conduct an investigation into the incident.
In a statement, OPP said “officers stopped to speak to a group of young people, none of whom were wearing masks or social distancing. Officers attempted to interact with the youths which led to a physical confrontation between one officer and one young person.”
The officer involved has been reassigned to administrative duties while the investigation is conducted.
“We understand the concerns being expressed by members of the public, and I want to assure everyone that the Ontario Provincial Police holds its members to the highest levels of professionalism and accountability,” Carrique said.
However this shakes out, there is a climate in Ontario that has to change. It’s too tense out there. Too angry.
People need to keep their cool.
“It is clear that police enforcing the stay-at-home order creates situations for our officers and the community none of us wish to be in,” the Ontario Provincial Police Association said in a statement. “Public trust is the foundation of effective policing and our members strive to maintain and improve that trust every day. Frustration for all is at a boiling point. Our members are under extraordinary stress, as are everyone during these trying times.”
Gravenhurst Mayor Paul Kelly said he alerted police to the video as soon as he received it Monday. He said he was pleased the OPP handed the issue over to Peel police to investigate.
“The relationship between the OPP in Gravenhurst and youth is tremendous, and I hope that doesn’t change because of this, “said Kelly.
As a former school principal, he said he understands things can happen but hopes it’s settled to everybody’s satisfaction.
In the meantime, residents of the area say children using the park had been told to disperse several times before this incident. While clearly marked as off limits at the time, signs had been torn down Sunday. “There may have been some confusion,” said Kelly.
A neighbour said the boy is a regular at the park and at the YMCA it sits next to and is not known as a troublemaker.
It’s important for authority and public servants to be reminded the people who live here are not the enemy and government is in place to serve the citizens — not the other way around.
They work for Ontarians and this is a free country where having kids on scooters or in playgrounds is a good thing. Let the kids skate. Let them play. Keep them happy because the adults are struggling through an unhappy time when the future is unclear.
In fairness to authorities, Muskoka has had 350 positive COVID cases over the pandemic and there have been cases among a few children in schools.
Law enforcement is asked to keep people away from public spaces with a view to ensuring safety and preventing virus spread. But there has to be common sense applied.
Yes, there is a battle against the coronavirus and its variants. But there is also a battle for keeping the sanity of the province together, as well. This is why getting out to the park is important for people.
This video offers a glimpse of what Ontario could look like if we allow it to skate down the path toward a dystopian state.