#BlackLivesMatter, reforming police, & Kingston

A brief glimpse at the role of policing in Kingston

Community members speak to their experiences with the Kingston Police against the backdrop of recent controversies. 
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Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis officers, there was widescale change in how we view policing across North America.
 
Queen’s students were carefully watching this intense political moment unfold. Solidarity protests popped up in Kingston and, led by the Queen’s Black Academic Society, a social media movement saw the donation of $33,000 to organizations in support of Black lives. 
 
Despite a desire to engage with #BlackLivesMatter, systemic racism and other forms of corruption in policing can feel distant to students—but it’s not. 
 
The Kingston police have not been free of controversy. 
 
Earlier this summer, Detective Brad Hughes made a public post on Facebook which claimed, in reference to the death of George Floyd, that those who died at the hands of police wouldn’t have if they didn’t resist arrest. The department launched an official investigation into the post, the results of which have not been made public.
 
Constable Ashley Gutheinz said in an email to The Journal, “on the organization’s end [the investigation] is an internal matter […] after previous media inquiries it was identified that internal matters will not be discussed publicly.” 
 
A history of racial profiling
 
Kingston was the site of the first racial profiling study in Canada, and the Kingston Police force was the focus of a 2017 thesis by Lysandra R. Marshall, a University of Toronto PhD candidate. 
 
Marshall used Kingston as a launching point to generally talk about policing in Canada, revealing some harrowing knowledge about the city that Queen’s calls home. 
 
In 2003, two innocent Black teenagers—Mark Wallen and Adrian Parkes—were handcuffed and searched while walking home from basketball practice. Neither was ever charged with a crime. The Kingston Police were accused of racial profiling and, in response, the department was instructed to collect data on the race and ethnicity of every citizen whom they dealt with in a non-casual way. 
 
Police unions then, according to Marshall’s thesis, made it difficult for journalists and academics to access data on racial profiling in Kingston. 
 
When the data was released, it revealed that Black folks were more likely to be stopped by police than their white counterparts—with a stop rate of 333.1 stops per 1,000 black population, compared to 149.8 stops per 1,000 white population. Black folks were not found to be significantly more likely to be issued an arrest or citation during a stop than any other group. 
 
At the time, then-Police Chief Bill Closs admitted to the existence of racial profiling in Kingston, but was widely criticized for refusing to acknowledge that his officers were at fault in any way. 
 
Today, holding police forces accountable in Canada looks much different. The Toronto police just unanimously passed 81 recommendations to meaningfully address anti-Black racism, and the RCMP is being increasingly called out by powerful organizations to introduce long-awaited reforms which would prevent violence against Indigenous folks.
 
Kingston, a town where 89 per cent of residents are white, on the other hand, has yet to fully institute any such reforms. 
 
The Kingston Police and Belle Park
 
In May, approximately 30 Kingston residents experiencing homelessness relocated to Belle Park, setting up an encampment. The camp was meant to be a temporary solution to a housing shortage while arrangements were made for more permanent shelter. 
 
On Aug. 6, after the City delayed evicting the residents throughout the summer,  notes were handed out by police officers to residents of Belle Park, reminding them that camping was no longer permitted and services like portable washrooms would soon be removed.
 
On Sept 1, Kingston Police put up barricades in the Belle Park parking lot and refused to allow in homelessness activists as a dozen people were evicted. 
 
“Kingston Police was only required when absolutely necessary,” Gutheinz said.  “This was determined by the fact that City Council had extended the move out date for those campers who were in Belle Park and that had continued to be ignored and eventually a transition was required out of Belle Park as per City Council orders.”
 
Sebastian Vaillancourt, ArtSci ’21, arrived on eviction day as a volunteer for Mutual Aid Katarokwi-Kingston, a local volunteer-run initiative. He said he was appalled by police presence at the eviction. He felt that the officers, by setting up barricades and preventing activists from helping residents move their belongings, were abusing their power. 
 
Vaillancourt  described officers as being “very unnecessarily hostile to a group of people who were just showing up as concerned citizens.”
 
Jim Neil, city councillor for Kingston’s Williamsville district, called it a “forced eviction,” in an interview with The Journal, critiquing the closure of the Park by Police. 
 
“That whole process, in my mind, was probably illegal because the park wasn’t closed by council and the only reason that the Police have the right to close a public space is if there’s been a crime committed, if there’s a risk to people, if there’s potential violence […] none of those things were happening.”
 
Neil entered the Park on eviction day and was told by an officer that he wasn’t allowed to enter the area. 
 
“In my younger activist days I would’ve gleefully been arrested. I didn’t, and I kind of regret that now.”
 
According to Gutheinz, “the transition involved no arrests, no charges laid, and no transportation to Kingston Police headquarters.” 
 
“All individuals were able to move off of the property and through the coordination of the City of Kingston and Housing and Social Services all attempts were made to ensure that their property was properly cared for and moved to a temporary holding area so that they had the ability and option to collect any and all items that belonged to them.” 
 
In July, Artillery Park was established as a temporary location for homeless people or those at risk of homelessness, as the City moves towards an Integrated Care Hub (ICH) model over traditional shelters. A new proposed location on Montreal Street for the ICH has already seen opposition from locals. 
 
Moving forward
 
10.8 per cent of the municipal operating budget will fund the Kingston Police Services Board in 2020, receiving $43,486,975 in taxpayer money.
 
Vaillancourt didn’t see positive community value in the Kingston Police during his limited interactions with officers, especially at Belle Park. 
 
“If we had a different structure of law enforcement, and there had been […] other people there who would’ve shown any amount of compassion or empathy, then I think we could’ve had a very different series of events [at 
Belle Park].”
 
Vaillancourt recommended that students get involved on their own. He spoke to the powerful but hidden role of community organizations currently helping locate and support former residents of Belle Park—specifically the Kingston Peace Council, a grassroots organization which “stands firmly against Western imperialism and materialism.” 
 
At the Kingston Police department, some action is being taken to address  racial profiling, abuses of power, and discrimination. On Sept. 17, Kingston Police announced that a committee would be assembled to look at systemic racism in Kingston. 
 
According to Board Chair Andrea Risk in an interview with The Kingston Whig-Standard, the purpose of the committee will be “[t]o review measures currently in place to address systemic racism, both anti-Black and anti-Indigenous, as well as develop recommendations to build on the initiatives that already exist within the Kingston Police Force.” 
 
“The committee will work with the chief and receive input from the public and the police association, as well as from stakeholders and community partners.”
 
Citing that Police actions at Belle Park were likely being guided by the City, Neil wanted to emphasize that he believes “95 per cent of the time, police in Kingston do a good job.” 
 
“[Police] act upon the instructions, or the request, of either their superiors or city staff and/or private citizens. That can be difficult sometimes.”

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