Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

After a long battle for access to a small public space outside a downtown Toronto police division, a 2012 Star headline declared that justice had finally been done: “Public space finally out of police custody.”

Freedom seems to be short-lived.

Two decades after concerns were first raised about officer cruisers blocking what was supposed to be public space outside the Toronto police’s 52 division – a building about 20 meters from the street that created a square – the battlefield at 255 Dundas St. W. has once again been partially transformed into a private party for the police.

The return of the cruises is documented online last year, most recently by Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic, who tweeted a series of photos this weekend by a liner and operated passenger cars flanking the station – “everyone else would get a ticket right away,” he wrote.

Google Street View archives capture the addition of metal fences around cars as early as September 2020, removing more than half of the space and creating a narrow path for pedestrians. Previous photos show pedestrians using the space and sitting on plantations in the now fenced area as late as September 2019.

Amid public complaints about the ugly use of civic spaces and motions that require change, police and municipal officials have previously mentioned ongoing work in the underground parking lot as justification for the temporary party.

This time, police cars parked in the square due to “significant traffic concerns” nearby, according to Toronto police. David Hopkinson.

Hopkinson said this week that the division’s unit chief recognizes that the space is a space, but has allowed the use of “a small portion” as a parking space in an attempt to reduce the net lock. Officers have designated locations on St. Patrick Street, immediately west of the division, but when parked there, “causes major back-up traffic” with local residents and construction workers gaining access to a nearby apartment project, Hopkinson said.

The unit chief “has been trying to pick the least urgent response to an unfortunate situation,” said Toronto police spokesman Meaghan Gray, adding that there have been no complaints to the 52nd Division about the cars since concerns surfaced recently.

On Tuesday, it was Toronto police cruises that predominantly filled the makeshift parking lot, a change from the weekend when many vehicles appeared to be officers’ personal cars.

Asked whether officers were allowed to park passenger cars on the site, Hopkinson said only Toronto police cars are allowed, adding that personal cars were parked there at the weekend due to construction in the underground plot under the station.

Renewed complaints about the square’s status as a parking lot have spurred Joe Cressy, councilor for Spadina – Fort York, to become the last local representative to call for the removal of police cars and the restoration of public space. In a statement, Cressy said he would bring a proposal to a committee meeting this month to “escalate” the issue.

“The current occupation of the space with parked police cars limits its accessibility and does not serve the interests of our city or our community,” Cressy said, adding that he urges city staff to work with the 52nd Division to restore this public space as soon as possible. “

A spokesman for a city in Toronto told the Star that city staff are “reviewing the history of this place” and contacting Toronto police “with the intention of better understanding the use of the space as well as its current status and other potential parking considerations.”

From 2010, city designer Paul Kulig was part of a review of the area, which includes the square in front of the 52 Division.

The hope was to open up the square to greater public use, Kulig told the star this week – to be a stop along the way for people jumping out of the nearby subway and moving west toward the Art Gallery of Ontario, or an inviting place for people to eat lunch or an area to host farmers markets.

Getting police cars to take up space instead sends a message saying, “You are not welcome here, go ahead,” Kulig said.

Ten years after working on the project, Kulig says he is frustrated with police cars in the square, but hopeful because people raise their concerns. “I think it can only be resolved with the continued pressure, and ultimately it must come from our political leaders who must demonstrate what the proper use of public space is,” he said.

“I do not think people can argue strongly that private parking for cars is the best use of that space anywhere.”

A series of Google Street View images show the space outside the Toronto Police 52 Division differently fenced or open to the public between 2009 and 2021.

A timeline for police use of Dundas Street Square

2001: City Councilwoman Olivia Chow then requests a report to the Toronto East York Community Council on “a comprehensive plan” for redesigning the streetscape that “would prevent parking of vehicles in front of the 52nd Division.” Instead, the request is to “green” this area corner in consultation with 52 divisions and local residents, according to a 2001 city council document.

2004: Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume regrets that “for several years now,” Toronto’s finest have used the space to park their vehicles – “the public domain is no longer public.” Chow says that although the city sent a letter to police and adopted a proposal asking for action, there has been no response from the force. “It is city-owned land, and the police are violating a statute that prohibits parking in front of a building. It’s just a dead zone, ”says Chow, adding:“ Every time I walk or drive past the 52nd Division, I see that parking lot. ”

2009: Archived Street View photos show the space open for public use without parked cruises.

2010: In his star column “The Fixer”, Jack Lakey believes it may be “time for police to start ticketing police cars parked on the pedestrian street in front of the 52nd Division.” Supt. Hugh Ferguson, who was in charge of the station at the time, blamed the construction of the underground parking garage and said when it was finished, “the vehicles will go down again and the public space will once again be an open area.”

2011: Lakey gives an update on the parking situation outside Division 52, saying that after at least 18 months, “it’s been so long since the cruise ship moved into the square that it’s starting to look permanent.” A city spokesman says work on the underground parking garage will continue into the summer of 2012, “but police vehicles should be able to return to the garage by the end of 2011.” Street View shows the square fenced for police use.

2012: Lakey reports that “the occupation of the public space in front of the 52 division of police cars is finally over” because the underground garage is fixed. Street View shows the removal of the fence outside the station.

2015: The City Council approves a proposal made by Cressy to make changes in the area for public use, including the possible expansion of a local social enterprise market, but no changes are made. “Councilor Cressy firmly believes that the need to maintain this area as a public and accessible space remains,” a spokesman said.

2020: Street View photos show that the square is again fenced for police parking.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based journalist who covers crime and police work for the star. Reach her via email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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