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Toronto Police: To “Serve and Protect” Whom Exactly? 11

Toronto Police Car

Toronto Police Service car photo courtesy of Stewart Rand

The Toronto Police Service, with its long history of blaming the victims when it comes to traffic fatalities, has kicked off its latest blame the victim campaign, which it is calling “Do the bright thing”. The campaign urges pedestrians to wear fluorescent clothing so that distracted drivers will have a better chance of seeing them before running them over and killing or maiming them.

This blame the victim style campaign is nothing short of an utter admission of failure in the Toronto Police Service’s ability to protect its citizens. By placing the blame on the most vulnerable road users, drivers are off the hook and can continue to drive distracted and/or too fast, while pedestrians bear the full weight of protecting themselves.

If the Toronto Police were doing their supposed job of “enforcing” traffic laws, they needn’t blame the victims. Urging pedestrians to walk around like Christmas tree ornaments does not get to the root of the problem. Careless, distracted and dangerous driving is the root cause of the majority of the ~100 or so pedestrian fatalities in Ontario each year, and walking around as a human light bulb is not going to fix that.

To Serve and Protect

The Toronto Police Service motto is “To Serve and Protect”. But who exactly are the police serving and protecting, if not but themselves?

When Toronto’s Mayor was caught reading while driving on the highway last year, the Toronto Police shrugged it off and concluded that he wasn’t doing anything illegal.

Let me re-iterate and emphasize this: The mayor was driving a large SUV on the highway while traffic was flowing at 70km/h and he was reading a document behind the wheel.

How did the Toronto Police Service respond?

[Traffic Services spokesperson] Const. Clint Stibbe said the police “certainly don’t condone” reading while driving but that doing so is not a “chargeable offence” in and of itself.

“Let’s say somebody is reading a book. Their vehicle goes out of control and strikes somebody, or can’t stay in the lanes, constantly going from one lane to another, no signals, a conglomeration of issues. Then you could look at a charge of careless,” he said.

So if the mayor is reading a book while driving, and his vehicle veers off the road and potentially kills somebody, *then* you could “look” at charging someone.

You know car culture has infiltrated a country when it’s legal to read a book while driving, but riding a bicycle with just one hand is against the law in the city.

The mayor reading incident could have been a perfect opportunity for the Toronto Police to educate the public on the potential consequences of distracted driving. The mayor put other people’s lives at risk, and there is no excuse for that.

At least former Toronto Police Traffic Services spokesperson Tim Burrows had the good sense to scold the mayor for his actions:

“On behalf of all the citizens of Toronto that value road safety, Mr. Mayor … please get a driver. It is obvious that you are busy enough to require one and no amount of money you are saving by not having one is worth the life of one of your citizens,”

Somebody at the Toronto Police Service must not have liked Sgt. Burrows’ message, because everything after “please get a driver” was removed later that day. Protecting themselves politically was more important to the Toronto Police Service than protecting their citizens.

Pedestrian Deaths As “Collateral Damage”

As long as our society continues to view the ~100 pedestrian deaths each year in Ontario as nothing more than collateral damage, nothing will change.

Until the Toronto Police decide to stop protecting themselves and our car culture, our most vulnerable road users will continue to be unprotected and hundreds more people will continue to die on our streets for nothing more than allowing drivers to get home just a little bit faster.

Careless, distracted driving needs to end, and the Toronto Police Service must do its part to both enforce the traffic laws and educate drivers on the consequences of their actions.

Expending its finite resources on blaming the victims ignores this reality and only serves as evidence of an organization failing to sufficiently protect its citizens.

James D. Schwartz is the Editor of The Urban Country and is based in Toronto, Canada. You can contact James at or follow him on Twitter.

i share the road

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11 thoughts on “Toronto Police: To “Serve and Protect” Whom Exactly?

  1. toddtyrtle Mar 5,2013 12:00 pm

    Please also hold an air horn in your hand at all times. This will ensure that as a pedestrian you may easily notify a reading driver of your presence..

  2. Martin Reis Mar 5,2013 12:02 pm

    For your amusement, shortly after the announcement of the ‘blitz’ I took this photo at Bloor and Spadina:

  3. Alex Pope Mar 5,2013 1:21 pm

    CBC News coverage of a hit-and-run in BC of two pedestrians wearing reflective clothing and headlights:

    Being visible is a good idea but it only works if motorists pay attention to the road and watch where they are driving.

  4. jus sayin' Mar 5,2013 5:05 pm

    This article reminds me of my husband when he drives…he’ll say “well I am in the right” and I say “who cares who is in the right if you end up dead”. I think they are just trying to saves lives. In the end, if you get hit by a car and it was the drivers fault (and it is not always the drivers fault with the advent of cell phones etc) you won’t really care that you were in the right. Does it really hurt to make yourself more visible?

  5. RLD Mar 6,2013 8:01 am

    Tow trucks and police cruisers lit up like Christmas trees at the side of the road still get clobbered by inattentive motorists. But, you know, the real solution to pedestrians getting hit is a reflective zipper tag for pedestrians.

  6. James D Paterson Mar 6,2013 2:10 pm

    Just a little comment in regards to:

    “By placing the blame on the most vulnerable road users, drivers are off the hook and can continue to drive distracted and/or too fast, while pedestrians bear the full weight of protecting themselves.”

    Drivers are NOT off the hook for hitting someone while distracted.

    If I’m on my phone and hit someone, I’d be in much more trouble than if I hit you accidentally.

    I understand your mentality and your utter disgust and hatred of those who drive cars (feel free to hate me, I thrive on it), but a blanket statement that distracted drivers are “off the hook” and that they’re free to “drive distracted” is completely wrong with no bearing whatsoever.

    Edit: In addition, where in any city document does it say riding a bike with one hand is illegal? You need to remove a hand when you signal (despite the fact that very few cyclists do, usually the activist ones), and I can’t find any documentation backing up your claim that one-handed riding is illegal.

    • James Schwartz Mar 6,2013 2:36 pm

      I drive cars as well, as do most of my friends and family, so I don’t think having an utter disgust and hatred for drivers would be an accurate statement. But I do my best to drive cautiously when I am behind the wheel, and cautious drivers are not the people who are referred to here.

      A large proportion of drivers who injure/kill pedestrians end up not getting charged. There are statistics all over the Internet to back this up (here is a summary of the weekly carnage in NYC on Streetsblog: 37 people have died in NYC this year and 0 drivers have been charged for those deaths. If drivers didn’t see the pedestrian before running them over, that is usually enough to get them off the hook if they weren’t intoxicated or grossly negligent.

      There is a by-law in Toronto that states that a bicyclist must have two hands on the handlebars at all times, with an exception when the cyclist is signalling their turn (circa 1992 I believe)

      There is also a newer bylaw implemented in 2011 that states “No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle, or article which prevents the rider from keeping both hands on the handlebars”.

      There is no such law for keeping both hands on the steering wheel in a car.

      • James D Paterson Mar 6,2013 2:48 pm

        Thanks for the links. Apparently I fail at Googling and was unable to find anything concrete.

        For your link to the NYC article (you might want to remove the ) at the end of the URL, as it’s returning a 404 not found), not all of the deaths listed are driver vs. pedestrian. For example: “Flushing: Driver Killed After Striking Guardrail on Whitestone Expressway (Post)”

        In that instance, he killed himself.

        Are you able to post a link to stats covering Toronto pedestrian deaths caused by vehicles? The NYC one is interesting to read but is entirely irrelevant.

        Also, the Chief Coroner review of 2010 (granted, it’s outdated) found that the majority of pedestrian deaths via vehicle were a result of pedestrians crossing illegally (not within the allowable distance of a designated crosswalk).

        I understand your points, don’t get me wrong, and for the very few cyclists who obey the rules of the road, I feel for them.

        Your article just seems very heavy handed against drivers, and that drivers are the sole cause of the problem when a pedestrian or cyclist is killed by a vehicle.

        • James Schwartz Mar 6,2013 3:10 pm

          If a pedestrian is crossing the street a metre outside of the designated crossing area, and a driver is turning right too quickly to have time to react before hitting the pedestrian, whose fault is it? Or if the driver was texting and hit the pedestrian, it would still be the pedestrian’s fault. The pedestrian certainly “broke the rules” here, but the driver also wasn’t exercising due caution. Similarly, if a pedestrian was crossing mid block, and a car came flying at 100km/h in a 50km/h zone and killed the pedestrian, the pedestrian would again be at fault by the law and there would be likely be no recourse against the driver for speeding because it would be hard to prove with the primary witness being dead. And even pedestrians who follow all the rules exactly still get hit and killed, and drivers often don’t get charged. I don’t have time to look up statistics, but you can go through news articles of pedestrian deaths to look for examples. Or you can do as I do and walk around the city, follow all the rules, and it won’t take you long before you almost get hit by a driver who is going too fast around a corner, or not exercising due caution.

          There is one place where we don’t have any traffic signals, pedestrians regularly cross the street without looking, and nobody has ever died:

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