high park cycling

Cyclists organize protest ride in High Park following numerous run-ins with Toronto Police

Cyclists are up in arms over the treatment they’ve received in the west end of the city in and around High Park after a series of well-documented incidents involving Toronto Police and are taking to the park en masse in an organized protest called “Ride for Safe Streets” on Aug. 11 at 6 p.m.

First, the city cancelled its popular ActiveTO program that shut down streets such as Lakeshore Drive West to turn them over to cyclists, pedestrians and others on the weekend. But, that was only the beginning. Soon, Toronto Police Service officers were setting up shop in local High Park and ticketing cyclists for speeding in the park.

David Shellnutt, a.k.a. the “Biking Lawyer”, says there is no data to back up the action. Although Shellnutt warned Toronto mayor John Tory that this would lead to greater problems, his pleas went unanswered.

Shellnutt summed up the events thus far.

“So, last week, on July 26, a BIPOC cyclist was being harassed by a police officer in High Park, who first threatened him with speeding. And then when that cyclist told them, ‘Well, you probably shouldn’t be in the bike lane with your vehicle,’ the officer then sped up, parked in front of him very aggressively and gave him a trespassing ticket,” alleges Shellnutt, who is representing the cyclist pro bono. “’Engaging in a prohibited activity’ is what the ticket said. Cycling we presume. And then that sort of blew up in the media, though they said it was about speeding and everybody got it wrong.”

At that point, Toronto mayor John Tory came out in support of what the police were doing in High Park.

“Friday evening, the 29th, I got a call from a non-white cyclist who said an undercover officer, a plainclothes officer, was harassing him and called in the marked units to the park to ticket him,” alleges Shellnutt.

And that wasn’t all.

“Monday night, a woman was biking along Bloor Street by the park and a man chased after her, grabbed her bike and she fell to the ground,” alleges Shellnutt, who could also be representing the woman in a civil suit. “He said he was fed up with cyclists and wanted to teach her a lesson.”

And then there was an incident where a Toronto Police officer actually hit a cyclist stopped in the bike lane, damaging his bicycle.

The saga continues as Shellnutt says he received an anonymous tip that the man who chased down the cyclist on Bloor Street was an off-duty police officer. This allegation has not been proven and it was not confirmed by the Toronto Police Service, a representative of which responded that TPS officers attended the scene on Aug. 1 but that no charges were laid.

When asked what message these incidents and police and government response to them sends to cyclists, he says at best it shows just how out of touch they are to the realities of dangerous driving in the city, and at worst, without care.

Shellnutt suspects that a very vocal minority of High Park area residents and park users complained about cyclists in the park and somehow found a willing listener despite what the data seems to show.

“The data shows that everything happens outside of the park on every other street in staggering numbers. And it’s motorists who are involved about 17,000 to six. There is no grey area; it just doesn’t make sense.”

Shellnutt says he has been pleading with Mayor Tory to diffuse the situation with the Toronto Police Serve before something worse happens. Has he heard anything? “Crickets,” he says.

Local advocacy group Cycle Toronto has also issued a letter requesting Mayor John Tory and Chief James Ramer meet with the cycling community to discuss “how we can work together to de-escalate the situation.”

“While we are encouraged by the progress being made by the High Park Movement Strategy project, recent events have caused people across the city to become increasingly concerned about their safety with respect to the Toronto Police Services, and the situation has become untenable,” reads the letter from Cycle Toronto.

“To that end, Cycle Toronto is urgently requesting a meeting with both you & Chief James Ramer. We would like to discuss how we can work together to de-escalate and open a dialogue where our communities can work constructively together on strategies with positive outputs.  We are more than willing to organize, facilitate and ensure the discussion is productive and respectful.”

Shellnutt says the only local representative who has responded has been city councillor Gord Perks.

Mayor Tory issued a statement in response to inquiries.

“This is a big park in a big city and it shouldn’t come as a surprise or an outrage to anyone that from time to time police conduct enforcement in response to community complaints. Police have been clear that the vast majority of their traffic enforcement efforts across the city are focused on motorized vehicles – as it should be,” it read in part.

“If someone was to be struck by a cyclist in the park and badly injured what discussion would we be having on that. People would say where are the authorities? This is part of the Mayor’s job — we have to look at all sides — and make sure everyone is safe.”

Tory also made it clear he is open to “innovative solutions” and thinks the High Park Movement Strategy should help the situation.

A survey in conjunction with the strategy to “rethink the travel network serving High Park” is currently up on the city’s website. This fall the city will evaluate options.

There is also a pop-up information booth available to park visitors on Aug. 10. It will be located near the entrance to the outdoor pool from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with staff on site.

There have been no additional incidents reported over the last few days.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO