Members of Toronto’s Somali community are condemning the actions of police during a series of early-morning raids last week.
Scores of tactical officers used battering rams and flash-bang devices as they executed 83 separate search warrants in the Dixon Road area at around 5 a.m. on June 13.
The raids were part of a year-long investigation into drugs and gun trafficking in the community. The investigation, known as Project Traveller, targeted the alleged criminal activities of a group known as the Dixon City Bloods, also known as the Dixon Goonies.
Police have previously said that 44 people were arrested during the raids, resulting in a combined 224 charges.
“After the raids, many Somali community members felt victimized and traumatized as a result of the reckless manner in which the officers forcibly entered their homes,” community activist Mahad Yusuf told reporters Tuesday morning. "The community members are angry about the destruction of their property, the disrespectful comments made by police and the police brutality."
Police focused the raids on a cluster of high-rise apartment buildings, including one at a building at 320 Dixon Rd.
Speaking with reporters Thursday, Yusuf said police treated area residents like “criminals” and used “excessive force” during the raids.
Yusuf said police also failed to provide additional resources to deal with the fallout.
"Instead of hiring trauma councillors or mental health councillors more policing was brought in, creating even more fear in this community," he said.
Resident says she was brutalized
During Tuesday’s press conference, several residents who had their properties searched during the raids spoke about the ordeal.
One of those residents who lives in 320 Dixon Rd said she awoke to a “terrifying sound” and before she knew it she was pinned against the wall, handcuffed and pushed to the floor by a tactical officer.
Fosia Duale said she then began feeling light headed and felt her heart beating at an alarming rate and informed the officer, who she claims replied “die” before resuming his search of her unit.
"I have had a minor heart attack, I am 64 years old, I will not accept to be told to die, I will not accept to be brutalized, I have done nothing to deserve the indignity and the force that came with the raids,” Duale said. “My religious identity was disrespected, my body was left bruised. How can this be acceptable in any community in Toronto?"
Police have not directly addressed specific allegations of officer misconduct, but on Tuesday afternoon Toronto Police Spokesperson Mark Pugash told CP24 that police took “every precaution” in executing the raids.
“These are always very disturbing and very disconcerting to communities and there is no way of getting around that, but keep in mind we are going after very violent people who don’t want to deal with us and don’t want to surrender,” he said. “We take every precaution we can not only to protect officers but to protect people who are not on our list and I take some comfort from the fact that there were no serious injuries from what happened.”
Union boss defends raids
Police have previously said that the Dixon Bloods are based in the Dixon Road area between Kipling and Islington avenues and are responsible for smuggling guns into Canada from the U.S. across the Detroit-Windsor border, in addition to being involved in shootings, robberies and drug trafficking.
Speaking with CP24 on Tuesday afternoon, Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack acknowledged the ordeal many innocent residents went through but said his officers are not to blame.
"As far as the allegations go, unfortunately these people are victims and they are victims of their own families and their own communities,” he said. “A lot of these gang bangers and these people involved in criminal activity will move into these places intentionally to give them shelter and some sort of cover from their criminal activity and I am telling you it will not work. We will go where we need to go to arrest these people and take them out of the community."
The raids resulted in the seizure of more than 175,000 grams of drugs, $570,000 in cash, 42 firearms, a Taser and more than 100 rounds of ammunition.
Despite the criticism, McCormack said most residents he has spoken to appreciate the work police have done in largely dismantling an active criminal organization.
"I didn’t see any of the moms or fathers or brothers and sisters who have had their children killed in this senseless violence out there protesting, ” he said. “I think that overall the community thinks we did a good job. "
Police Chief Bill Blair has previously commended officers for conducting the raids without incident.
Blair has also promised to increase the police presence in the neighbourhood to help ease the fear of residents in light of the raids.
"We will have officers positioned in that neighbourhood to answer the questions the community has," Blair said last week. "We know how traumatic it can be when those raids take place in the dark of night, when doors are going crashing down and when flash-bangs are ignited, so we want to be there to reassure residents and restore their sense of safety and control."
One of the buildings searched has been connected to a recent scandal involving Rob Ford and a missing video that allegedly shows the mayor with what appears to be a crack pipe.
Police have refused to comment on any link between their investigation and the mayor and on Tuesday afternoon Ford repeatedly dodged questions from reporters on the matter.
"I cannot elaborate on anything," he said after attending an event at Nathan Phillips Square. "It is obviously before the courts now and it is a police investigation."