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Ontario Community Safety Minister Michael Tibollo, seen in Vaughan, Ont., in 2015, says he chose to visit the Jane and Finch neighbourhood so he could 'actually see what it's like.'Peter Power/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario’s new Community Safety Minister is under fire for saying he wore a bulletproof vest while touring Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood.

Michael Tibollo, the MPP for Vaughan-Woodbridge, who also oversees the province’s anti-racism directorate, shared the anecdote while responding to a question from the Opposition in the legislature on Wednesday about street checks, the controversial police practice of collecting information about people they stop to question.

“Personally, I went out to Jane and Finch, put on a bulletproof vest and spent 7 o’clock to 1 o’clock in the morning visiting sites that had previously had bullet-ridden people killed in the middle of the night,” Mr. Tibollo recalled, adding later that he chose to visit the neighbourhood at night so he could “actually see what it’s like.”

On social media, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the comment “inexcusably racist.”

“Anyone who would say something so divisive has no credibility to continue to oversee Ontario’s anti-racism directorate,” she wrote.

Mitzie Hunter, the Liberal MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood, said Mr. Tibollo’s comments were “unfortunate, because it reflected the stereotype of a lack of safety in a whole community, and I think that that’s problematic.”

The intersection has had a reputation for violence. A 25-year-old man, Karim Hirani, was killed there in a shooting on July 8. It was the 26th gun homicide of the year in Toronto, but the first for the neighbourhood since February, 2017.

Shawn Burgess, the acting community director for the Jane and Finch Boys and Girls Club, said on Wednesday that it was “disappointing” to hear these comments from someone of Mr. Tibollo’s stature, and that they “feed into the stereotyping and stigma” of the neighbourhood.

Mr. Tibollo noted that it was police who gave him the vest, during a ride-along he did with officers and Premier Doug Ford. In an e-mail statement on Wednesday, Toronto Police spokesperson Mark Pugash said there is a “safety assessment” done when police do a ride-along and that they err on the side of caution.

On the topic of street checks − the question initially asked by NDP MPP Kevin Yarde − Mr. Tibollo would say only that he feels police “need tools to work with.”

Unsatisfied, Mr. Yarde was granted an opportunity to repeat his question in the legislature on Wednesday evening, where he asked specifically whether the government will “finally end the discriminatory and unconstitutional act of carding.”

MPP Prabmeet Sarkaria, Mr. Tibollo’s parliamentary assistant, took the question on behalf of the minister, who did not attend, and accused the opposition of “[shouting] racism to shut down debate."

He said it is “fact” that visible minorities are disproportionately victimized by violence.

“If we do nothing, the number of victims – victims who are more likely to be visible minorities – will grow,” he said. “The reason [Mr. Tibollo] wore the vest was the police in 31 Division advised him to wear it. The real insult is not that the minister … wore the vest. It’s that the vest was needed in the first place."

He said the government is committed to providing “more tools, more resources, and more supports” to police, but stopped short of taking a firm stand on street checks.

However, earlier on Wednesday, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott stressed to reporters that the government will “absolutely not” reintroduce carding.

Carding is a commonly used name for street checks − a practice the Liberals cracked down on in 2016 after it became clear that people of colour were being disproportionately stopped.

“We’ve talked about giving police the resources they need in order to deal with gun violence, but bringing back carding is not one of them,” Ms. Elliott said.

Explainer: Gangs, guns and Toronto: A primer on this summer’s shootings and the stories behind them

Under the new regulations, police must explain to people they stop that they have a right not to talk with them – and that their refusal to talk cannot then be used against them to compel information. Police are also now obligated to explain their reasons for stopping someone and provide a receipt of the interaction.

Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch is conducting a review of street checks and is expected to produce a report by January, 2019.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mayor John Tory announced details of his plan to tackle the gun and gang violence in the city. There have been more than 286 shooting victims in the city so far this year, according to police data, including 27 fatalities.

Mr. Tory said he hopes to establish a “children’s mental-health and trauma-recovery team,” that will support families and services providers across the city, who work with children affected by violent crime. He also hopes to double the size of the city’s Community Crisis Response Program, which works with communities in the immediate hours and days after a traumatic event such as a shooting.

Mr. Tory also reiterated his support for the Toronto Police Service and Chief Mark Saunders’s plan to bolster the front line during the nighttime hours for the remainder of the summer, using mandated overtime.

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack has said he is going to grieve that plan, which he says will exhaust an already understaffed front line. Mr. Tory stressed on Wednesday that the plan is temporary, adding that he’d like to see the union be part of the solution instead of being an “obstacle” to the city’s plan to quell the violence.

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