No Pride in Policing Coalition, Butterfly: Asian & Migrant Sex Worker Support Network, and Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project Call for Missing Persons Cases to be Removed from the Police and Transferred to Community-Based Groups April 19, 2021 On April 13, 2021 the Independent Civilian Review into Missing Person Investigations published its report, Missing and Missed. This review was created in 2018 after the disappearances and murders of members of 2SLGBTQ+ communities including South Asian and Middle Eastern men who have sex with men, sex workers, and trans people. The report meticulously documents the major and systematic mistakes the Toronto Police made in their investigations of the disappearances and murders of Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Kirushna Kumar Kanagaratnam, Dean Lisowick, Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Alloura Wells, and Tess Richey. It is a scathing indictment of the police who basically left people to be killed. The major concerns put forward by Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, queer, sex worker and trans activists are confirmed in the report. It identified these problems as ‘systematic’ in character, including differential and discriminatory treatment. The problem is that this report contains a major contradiction: despite a scathing indictment, the report actually calls for the expansion of police funding while minimizing the harmful conduct of frontline officers engaging with QT/BIPOC communities through the duration of missing persons investigations. The No Pride in Policing Coalition (NPPC) rejects this approach and is calling for all missing persons cases to be removed from the police and that this funding be transferred to community-based groups. Report Will Result in the Expansion of Police Funding After documenting these horrific systematic mistakes, the main recommendations of the report are for an expansion of police funding for missing persons investigations, for more collaboration under police direction with social and community agencies, and for embedding social workers and other ‘civilians’ in the police. As with embedded journalists in the military in war situations this means these ‘civilians’ then become part of the police, and their perspectives are shaped by and constrained by the police as an institution. This can be seen as an extension of ‘community policing.’ Despite its nicer sounding name, ‘community policing’ is actually about the intensification of policing of Black, racialized, Indigenous, Two-Spirit, Queer and Trans communities and has nothing to do with safety. Police often contact CBSA when the migrant report the violence against them. Policing has never been about caring for queer and trans communities. Community policing has always been about surveillance and regulation of Black, Indigenous, people of colour, and migrants that imperils our lives. This contrasts with defunding the police, a demand that many communities are making, including the No Pride in Policing Coalition. Instead of defunding the police, this report (if implemented) would result in the expansion of police budgets. This is why Toronto Police Services has said it has already agreed to some of these recommendations. Community Groups Best Positioned to Address Missing Persons In contrast, the NPPC argues that this missing persons work must be taken away from the police as part of a broader movement to defund the police and transferred instead to community-based groups who are much better placed to address these questions. For instance, the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) would have been much better placed to organize the work in relation to many of the murders by the serial killer. Maggie’s Toronto Sex Worker’s Action Project and Butterfly, Toronto based Asian and Migrant Sex Workers organization would be much better placed to address missing sex workers, including trans sex workers, and already have experience conducting this work when law enforcement refused to take action. During Alloura Wells’ disappearance Maggie’s led community-wide search parties because law enforcement mocked and dismissed her case. Early community safety initiatives, including the neighbourhood postering and organizing meetings to share information about the different men who had disappeared, held far more hope for the killer being identified earlier and for preventing some of the later deaths. Meanwhile the police left people to be killed and in fact told us that there was no killer. Community based safety initiatives, grounded in the communities of people that the missing come from, are much more effective in locating what happened to people while at the same time not giving more funding and power to an institution – the police — that constantly puts the lives of Black, Indigenous, people of colour and migrants at risk. Police Racism and White Supremacy Obscured by the Report In part the report justifies this major contradiction between documenting the horrors produced by the police and its main recommendations for expanding the police through the language it uses. It describes the major ‘systematic’ or institutional problems of the police as a series of “deficiencies” (using a more neutral sounding bureaucratic language) which makes it seem easier to think they can be fixed. Central to the language of the report are the need to develop ‘trust’ between the police and what is described as vulnerable and marginalized communities, building ‘relationships’ and ‘partnerships.’ This is a call for not only the police but for these vulnerable and marginalized communities to engage in these practices despite the major differences in social power involved. For instance, the police engage in the everyday criminalization of the lives of sex workers, drug users, poor and homeless/unhoused people, and the reporting of people without status to immigration authorities which has led to detention and deportation. During the pandemic, Maggie’s has seen the amplification of harassment and surveillance of sex workers by law enforcement through entrapment tactics. Police also continue to use anti-trafficking initiatives to arrest, detain and deport sex workers, particularly racialized and migrant sex workers. While the report notes some of the problems created by current law enforcement practices it does not address them, but rather states that the terms of reference given to the inquiry prohibit them from addressing such problems. In practice, their calls for trust, and relationship and partnership building, are based on a magical disappearance of these relations of social power while the police still have the power to criminalize people and initiate detention and deportation practices. While there is a major focus in the report on vulnerable and marginalized communities and even the occasional mention of ‘intersectionality’ as an approach, there is no real analysis of institutionalized racism within the police and the important part policing plays in maintaining white supremacy, colonialism, and Anti-Black, Anti-Asian and other forms of racism. It is here that the lumping together of various groups as vulnerable and marginalized leads to an avoidance of anti-Black and other forms of racism in police practices. This is a major flaw in the report and does not allow it to really recognize that the police are a major threat to the lives of Black, Indigenous, people of colour, and migrants. This is, in part, because the terms of reference given to the inquiry accept the basic form of policing and only allows for arguing for limited reforms within this context. On this read the very limited investigation of Black communities on pp. 606-611 in the report, in which a discussion with members of Black Lives Matter-Toronto is not given the weight that it deserves. The report itself reflects a privileging of whiteness by amplifying and praising the efforts of Andrew Kinsman’s white, middle-class friends for getting the police to investigate the disappearance of Kinsman and other missing men, while simultaneously diminishing the action and efforts of Brown men in persuading the police to investigate the disappearance of Brown men. The report also omits the community-led search parties local sex workers from Maggie’s Toronto organized to draw attention to the disappearance of Alloura Wells. The report in cautioning police to not only listen to the loudest voices implies that an equal playing field exists as to how individuals and groups are treated in society and by police. The report clearly ignores the pervasive structural, systemic, institutional racism and white supremacy that exists and is endemic in policing. Police and Pride Toronto The NPPC was formed to defend the demands of Black Lives Matter Toronto regarding the prohibition on institutionalized police participation in our Pride parades because of their anti-Black racism and racist practices, including the police killings of Andrew Loku and Jermaine Carby. It is necessary to address the recommendations referring to Pride Toronto (145 a and 145 b) which exemplify some of the problems in the report. To begin, the report does not seem to grasp that 80% of the Pride Toronto membership in Jan. 2017 voted to expel the police from within the Pride parade and festival because of their anti-Black racism and killings of Black people. The members of Pride Toronto have since then continued to confirm this position, despite attempts by board members, executive directors and state funding agencies to change this. The report suggests a joint committee between the police and the LGBTQ2S+ communities to assess on an annual basis whether police have “earned their way back into the Pride parade.” This is in direct violation of the decisions made by the members of Pride Toronto. It even suggests that among other things “this assessment should be based on the extent to which the Service has implemented this Report’s recommendations.” There are major problems here. This interferes with and undermines the decisions of the Pride Toronto membership and actually establishes the Toronto police themselves as having input into when they “earn” their way back into the Toronto Pride parade. By not being grounded in opposition to Anti-Black racism and trying to develop ‘partnerships’ for the police this proposal exemplifies the problems with the report. In the end it becomes a vehicle for expanding police power and influence even though that is a threat to the lives of Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour, including many queer and trans people. In conclusion, we reiterate our demand that as part of the broader defunding of the police and the transfer of resources instead to community-based groups that missing persons funding be taken away from the TPS and the funds given to community-based groups to address these needs in a more effective and community-based fashion. The No Pride in Policing Coalition (NPPC) is a group of queer and trans people formed to support Black Lives Matter Toronto and is now focused on defunding and abolishing the police. Maggie’s Toronto Sex Worker’s Action Project was founded in 1986. Maggie’s was established on the belief that sex work is real, legitimate and valuable work. Their mission is to empower sex workers to live and work with safety and dignity and to lead the fight for decriminalization and sex workers’ rights in Canada.
Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network) is a grassroot organization which provides supports to, and advocates for , the rights of Asian and Migrant sex workers.