There has been much sorrow and outrage, and many questions left unanswered, following the tragic death of Edmond Yu at the hands of the Toronto police on February 20. 

Police were summoned to the transit loop at the foot of Spadina Avenue by Toronto Transit Commission staff after a woman was allegedly struck across the face while waiting for a bus. The cops confronted Mr. Yu on board an empty TTC vehicle, where he was apparently waving a 'small, shiny toy hammer.' The police responded by firing at least four shots. 

The media coverage has been distorted to say the least, and in my opinion has bordered on criminally irresponsible. There was a huge emphasis placed on Mr. Yu being diagnosed as 'paranoid schizophrenic,' and that he had recently been barred from Toronto's Scott Mission for allegedly fighting with another user of this facility. Even if he had been involved in a fight, did anyone think to ask if he had been provoked? Or did people simply blame the incident on his 'mental illness?' 

Toronto police chief David Boothby was heard to be vigorously defending the actions of his officers, saying he expected them to 'protect themselves and the public' -- all this before any investigation had taken place. The question here is: was there any real danger to the public in this situation? and wouldn't it have served everybody's interests far better for the police to back off and let someone else handle the situation? 

The truth of the matter is that police are totally unwilling to relinquish their power in any situation... and police culture is one which frankly promotes deadly force as an appropriate response to conflict. 

On Wednesday of last week (February 26) a community meeting was called by the Chinese Canadian National Council . Held in the center court of Toronto's Chinatown Center, the meeting drew more than two hundred people from a broad spectrum of communities to hear a panel which included Metro Toronto Council member Olivia Chow, activist Avvy Go, and drop-in worker Bob Rose, who had spent a good deal of time with Edmond Yu in the weeks prior to his death. There were also two psychiatrists on this panel... this one shrink succeeded in pissing everyone off with his remarks that there was 'too much focus on negative rights, such as the right to refuse treatment -- what we should be focusing on is the right of people to be treated; the right of people to be well...' I'm sure you get the picture. Unfortunately it was not a appropriate time or place to effectively counter his remarks, as outrageous as they were -- so this agenda was allowed to carry the day. 

After the panel members spoke, there was time for questions and comments from the others in attendance. Many people spoke passionately -- there were comments from people who had known Mr. Yu personally, from people who work with homeless persons, and from psychiatric survivors. A clear sense of the man was forming... and it was nothing like what was being portrayed in the media. The sense of pain and anger was very strong -- but there was a feeling of people coming together. Aside from the outlandish comments from this one shrink, this was a very good session. 


At seven o'clock in the evening of Thursday, February 27, people began to gather at the Spadina Avenue transit loop that was the scene of the shooting one week before. Despite the cold temperatures, and the near-hurricane winds whistling across Lake Ontario just yards away, more than one hundred people were eventually to come to honour the passing of Edmond Yu. 

As candles flickered, people gathered in a circle around a large placard which said 'Did Yu deserve to die?' in English and Cantonese, and which featured a remarkable photograph. Taken last Christmas Day by a Toronto Star photographer, it showed Mr. Yu seated at a table at the Scott Mission, his head bowed in apparent meditation, holding a glass containing a single lighted candle in his cupped hands. This single image gave much more of a feeling of what this man was about than all the other media put together -- though the Star's coverage of this incident has been consistently dreadful, this was probably the most compelling newspaper photo I had seen in years.

A large wreath of white flowers was laid in front of this image, and in a simple Buddhist ceremony for honouring the dead, participants went one by one before the picture and bowed three times before moving away. I wasn't the only one who was in tears at this point. 

There was a great deal of media present, and in my opinion they were intruding on what should have been private space for those who needed to grieve. And there was a local politician present who was annoying everyone by scurrying in front of the cameras every chance he got. In addition, the police seemed unwilling to allow us even this much space -- there were two cops on bicycles circling the area while the vigil was taking place, and when I was leaving the area later with friends, I saw a police horse trailer being driven away. 


Shortly before one o'clock on the afternoon of Saturday, March 1, people began to gather at the corner of Huron and Dundas Streets, in the heart of Toronto's Chinatown district. Mr. Yu had frequented this corner for quite some time, and was well-known -- and unlike the situation faced by most homeless persons, apparently well-liked -- by local merchants and residents. By about one-fifteen, despite a damp chill and persistent drizzle, the crowd had grown to the point where it spilled into both westbound lanes of Dundas Street. 

The demonstration was organized by the Coalition Against Racist Police Violence, which included groups such as the Black Action Defence Committee (Formed in 1988 in response to the killing by police of a man named Lester Donaldson), the Toronto chapter of Anti-Racist Action, and the Toronto Coalition Against Racism, among others. The major drawback was there was no participation by psychiatric survivors in organizing, aside from my own participation in sign and banner-making the previous night, and Bob Rose's involvement in earlier events. In addition, a young woman who had known Edmond Yu personally had attempted to address the crowd, but had the megaphone yanked from her hands by one of the organizers -- this was at least fifteen minutes before the scheduled program of speakers commenced. I don't know, maybe I'm naive, but I feel these are the voices we need to be hearing, rather than the same small group of 'professional activists' who usually dominate these events. This type of thing is supposed to be about empowerment, rather than personal ego-gratification by leadership. I intend to raise this issue at the next coalition meeting. 

After hearing from speakers representing the Chinese Canadian National Council and the Ontario Federation of Labor among others, the crowd moved onto the street . Chanting 'No justice, no peace!' 'Justice for Edmond Yu!' and 'Charge the cops with murder,' the crowd moved west along Dundas Street towards Spadina Avenue. Moving north along Spadina we were joined by a group of Chinese youth with cymbals and a large drum. Others continued to join in as we marched -- by the time we reached police headquarters on College Street just west of Yonge, the numbers had swelled to nearly five hundred. 

The chanting had grown to a roar as people crowded up against the building. There was a heavy police presense -- numerous cops on foot, a paddy wagon which had been trailing the march, and a total of eight officers on horseback stationed across the street, and between the crowd and nearby Yonge Street. (Toronto's main street, and the scene of several days of unrest following a similar shooting incident in May of 1992.) Speakers at the cop shop included B.A.D.C. activist Dudley Laws, who himself has been the focus of a concentrated campaign of police harassment, Toronto Coalition against Homelessness spokesperson Beric German, and the mother of another recent shooting victim, sixteen year old Faraz Suleman, who was killed by police last summer. (A York Region police officer has been charged with manslaughter in connection with this incident, but remains on active duty pending trial.) 


In the course of this past week's events, a portrayal of Edmond Yu emerged that was completely different from the 'violent paranoid schizophrenic' that he was being described as in the media, and by the police. On the contrary, the picture that emerged was of a highly intelligent and sensitive young man with a strong spirituality about him. In the course of this past week's events, many people spoke about how they had been enriched by Yu's ready smile and intelligent dialogue... and that they had felt absolutely no threat emanating from this man. I spoke at lengh with a friend of mine whose partner works at the Gerstein Center -- a local crisis center for ex-patients -- where Edmond Yu had stayed during the last few days of his life. This man had talked with Yu at length just the day before he was killed, and described him as 'a remarkable man.' The shooting sent a shock wave through Toronto's Chinese community, and deeply affected survivors -- I heard that in the wake of the killing, people were frankly scared to leave their homes, and are completely terrified of the police. While there were quite a few survivors at Saturday's demonstration, we were not present as an organized body. 

I'm hoping this will serve as a wake-up call to Toronto's survivor community -- there is much work to do. Rather than concentrating on holding the media responsible for the bigotry they foster through sensationalist reporting, and ensuring police accountability for their all-too-ready use of deadly violence, we allowed the media and the shrinks to set the agenda for this situation -- which basically involves further repression aimed at people that have a psychiatric diagnosis. The tide has to turn -- and I feel it is psychiatric survivors, and the other communities most affected by bigotry and violence, who must take a leadership role in making this happen.