Terror in Dixon: Behind the Rob Ford Scandal


‘Project Traveller’ and the struggle to defend our communities


Police lead a woman away in Project Traveller raids. MATTHEW SHERWOOD/NATIONAL POST

By: Kabir Joshi-Vijayan

Rob Ford might be the most (in)famous politician in Canadian history. Every other week a new intoxicated blunder is revealed while the entire local political establishment tries to force his resignation.

Despite the hundreds of hours of sensational reporting, the story is actually unimpressive: a ‘public’ official abusing drugs and alcohol, threatening personal rivals and flaunting his racist and homophobic views is pretty normal.

The tale of a crack smoking Mayor pales in comparison with another municipal controversy, a scandal which has faded from headlines since Rob’s escapades began to dominate.

This involves a force that has committed the most blatant violations of human rights, one that has paid over $27 million in civil lawsuits since 2000 and is now facing two new litigations totalling $65.4 million. This is a force the entire city watched taze the lifeless body of a frightened 18-year old after they shot him nine times – the latest in dozens of killings of largely Black, Brown or mentally-ill victims.

The force being described is of course the Toronto Police Service.

The incident that should have drawn the most outrage in relation to the Ford scandal was the heavily armed attack on the neighbourhood of Dixon and Kipling in June 2013. Over 100 officers with bullet proof vests, flash grenades, battering rams and automatic weapons stormed into three buildings at 5am to arrest 19 men and women.

Doors were broken down, apartments were torn apart and mothers, grandmothers and youth were terrorized and assaulted, including a 67-year-old woman kicked in the face, told by officers to die, and forced to watch as police tried to handcuff her 96-year old mother who had fallen violently out of bed.

This paramilitary operation was called ‘Project Traveller’ and it was targeted primarily against the Somali community. The raid was praised and lauded as having cleaned the neighbourhood of supposed gang members. Police announced to several residents they were there because of Rob Ford, and the Police Chief later revealed that a videotape of the Mayor had been found during the operation.

This is only the latest in dozens of similar operations conducted by Toronto Police, every one of them directed at working-class, racialized communities and arresting primarily young Black men and women. In most cases it is later revealed that well over half of those arrested are completely innocent, (as in ‘Project Flicker’ in Ardwick in 2005, or ‘Project Kryptic’ in Driftwood in 2007). These raids have proven to do nothing to end violence, and in the case of Driftwood, police were back four years later (Dec 2011) to lock up a new generation of youth.

These projects allow police to pose for photo ops in front of seized weapons, drugs and money and attempt to prove to city residents that their $1 billion annual budget isn’t going to waste.

Cops grab any cash they find in raided units without any proof of their illegal origin. Communities which face high levels of poverty, such as Somalis, Jamaicans and South Asians, often keep quantities of money at home. Thousands of dollars are taken – by the police. In ‘Project Traveller’ over $575,000 was looted.

The Rob Ford scandal is also a perfect example of the hypocrisy associated with policing in this city. Although police used incriminating evidence to humiliate Ford and try and force his resignation, they made not one move to charge him.

In Dixon meanwhile, the basis for violently rounding up many of the accused, some of whom are still languishing in jails, was nothing more than them having supposed criminals as relatives, friends or contacts in their phones: this includes senior-aged parents arrested and charged for not knowing that their children were allegedly keeping illegal items in the house.

The Mayor brazenly bought and used packages of drugs in public parking lots and washrooms, spoke for hours on the phone about his criminal activities, and yet police claim they did not have the grounds to arrest, search or even make him answer questions.

In working-class communities like Dixon, even outside of raids, youth are stopped and searched for simply being outside too late or being in too large a group. They are arrested and assaulted for having small amounts of marijuana or for trespassing violations.

From a larger perspective, the same Canadian state that is now spending $12 billion over the next 4 years to build new prisons (such as the new $540 million South Toronto Detention Center), to lock up people at the lowest levels of the drug trade, is the same country where local politicians are charged with actively collaborating with the mob. It is the same country that props up narco states like Colombia through ‘free-trade’ deals and cozy diplomatic relations; the same country that helped build Afghanistan into the largest producer of opium and heroin in the world.

The fact is the Toronto Police are not a group unto themselves. The physical attacks such as the raids, brutality and daily harassment, go hand-in-hand with social and economic attacks on these same communities from other branches of the system. In Dixon economic warfare means imposed conditions of chronic unemployment, low paying jobs and criminalizing industries such as Khat (a mild stimulant plant leaf no more harmful than coffee or shisha, but widely used among East Africans).

The sitcom/crime drama which City Hall has become over the past year has left us misinformed and distracted from the real issues at hand. Many working people have developed a liking for the slow-witted millionaire in the Mayor’s office, thinking the political establishment’s opposition to him is proof that he is somehow on our side. Bill Blair has been able to look like the poised and honest chief after the public outrage following the G20 and the killing of Sammy Yatim.

It is clear that neither side in this conflict are on our side! We as oppressed and working people shouldn’t have to rely on the Fords of the world bribing us to get us funding and social programs. We must also recognize that violations like the June 13 attack on Dixon are only able to happen because we are disorganized and divided.

It is time to build real mass movements in our neighbourhoods and communities to solve our own problems, raise and educate our children and oppose state violence. Police raids, carding, harassment, violence and mass incarceration will not end by suing, begging or reforming that structure but will only be the result of a strong, united and organized community prepared to defend itself.





  1. HR said:

    For someone who until recently had a lot of trust in the police in Canada, it’s very hard to see piece like this. Now I still see the police and laws as necessary but this kind of situation is not right.

    The solution I can think of to this kind of abuse is to drastically reduce the power of the police (treat it like other agencies like tax collectors and social workers) and separate its repressive arm (riot squads, SWAT teams, general patrols) from its investigative arm (investigations into actual crimes). I would go further and recommend a separation within the repressive arm into two agencies — one that is armed with guns and tasers and one that is not (the armed agency should not be used at all except in limited cases). I would hope this separation would weaken the repressive arm (as they would no longer be able to charge people with crimes), and allow the investigators to become “civilian”.

    Any thoughts on this?

  2. bob said:

    This is a rather biased piece, but it is partially true. While I am sure there are many instances where the police wrongly harass good citizens, I also would also think the Police are justified in some cases. In the above story, half of the 19 ppl were charged with a crime. I would be curious to know how many of the innocent ppl shared apartments with those that were rightfully charged? (eg. a gang member lives with his mother and grandmother – if the police raid in that sort of scenraio then the other people, regardless of their innocence, will likely get arrested until it is clear that they are not involved in any criminal activity.

    I also find it odd that the author talks about how this community is working class yet suggests that $575,000 was “looted”. Call me crazy, but $30,000+/person ($575,000/19) seems to be a lot of money for a working class individual to have. I do not consider myself to a working class individual and I don’t have $30k in the bank…nor under my mattress etc. As such, I don’t think it terribly odd that the police might suspect that some or all of that $595,000 are proceeds from criminal activity. (I say that because half of the 19 individuals arrested were charged)

    There is definitely no easy answer nor solution to situations like this – the police assume everyone is guilty and the community suggests that everyone is innocent and they are being unfairly targeted. The truth, as usual, is likely somewhere in the middle.

  3. Fa da po said:

    To all ya that tink this aint wrong imagen that 67 year old woman was your mom, the police are just over spending and over exaggurating our tax money for their stupid fun bunchaa idiots tat put people in jail for no reason and all they do is to hide somewr and smoke pot and hustle the tax money to kill or destroies families IM AGAINST THIS STUPID POWER PIGS NEED TO HV THEIR LIMITZ HUSTLAZ

  4. SERIOUSLY said:

    You all don’t see people that aren’t Aboriginals complaining how it’s not fair that we have to pay taxes but the Aboriginals don’t?? Is that not unequal treatment?? Yes, this argument is irrelevant but this is how you all sound like.

  5. someone who knows better said:

    If you all like to think I’m racist then so be it. If i’m racist, then you all are gangster-wannabes with the i-hate-cops mentality that think you guys are soooo cool. Probably school drop-outs with no jobs. that’s why you’re mad that the cops are in your hood busting your ass while you sell drugs. And this isn’t directed to black people, cause there are asians, whites and browns that all act/think this way.

  6. jose said:

    All they do is profile.. if you say its not true I know for a fact you’re white. I hate these pigs and am happy when I hear “victim is refusing to cooperating”

  7. someone who knows better said:

    Everything the cops does is for a reason. Without all those raids and harassment our streets would be a lot worse. If you don’t want to be harassed by cops then don’t go out too late at night in a large crowd with small amounts of marijuana. It’s as simple as that. What else do people in the projects in large crowds usually do at 1 AM than smoke weed and flaunt their gadgets? People just hate cops because they don’t know what cops put up with on a daily basis and they don’t know what it’s like to actually hold down a freakin’ job. Get a job and a life and I’m sure your mentality will change. I hope the police never stop raiding or harassing.

    • Falan said:

      I’m sorry but I would have to disagree with your comment, is it okay to kick a 67 year old woman in her face?? and to terrorize a 90 something old woman?? I believe you are a fool and most likely a racist. Police do not have the RIGHT to pick and choose by RACE. GET IT TOGETHER.

    • david said:

      this is to (someone who knows better) i laugh because you clearly do not understand nor over-stand what is going on in these communities. Your just another sleeping ediat that doesn’t understand the difference between law and criminal code, and the fact that the law is being broken to enforce a criminal code.

      • someone who knows better said:

        Learn how to spell before calling someone an idiot. I never once said it was okay to kick a 67 year old in the face. I never even mentioned anything about that so i’m SORRY if I hadn’t disagreed with that part of this article. I was just speaking about what I feel about the raids and harassment in general. I’m not a racist. I grew up in these so called “projects” and I still believe that without these raids, our streets would be worse. Only difference is, I GOT OUT. Do I believe there may be a different way to handle this? Maybe.

    • Hungree said:

      Really? http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/03/01/unequal_justice_aboriginal_and_black_inmates_disproportionately_fill_ontario_jails.html

      Statistics indicate you are wrong.

      • get a life said:

        Obviously people who commit crimes are gonna be placed in jail…. so dumb. It’s not my fault they all happen to be aboriginals or blacks… I don’t have time to read the whole article, seriously.



  8. Mike said:

    The purpose of Project Traveller was to stop a pipeline of illegal guns into Toronto from the U.S. The police seized 40 illegal firearms and $3 million worth of drugs in the raids, while wounding gangs in Windsor, Toronto and elsewhere. I’m not going to stand behind everything the police do and have done, but it’s hard to argue that Traveller was completely without merit.

  9. Micscared said:

    How do we organize? I’ve witnessed brutality by police, to much, just cowboyz with guns, and a clown with a crown. I WANT to help bring change, where to turn?

  10. gerry merchant said:

    The reason Rob Ford has not been arrested has a simple explanation here: