No question was off the table for Chief Blair at the inaugural Know Your Rights Town Hall meeting at the Toronto Police College.
Organized by Sergeant Rodcliff Chung (@OfficerRod8037), the event saw 200 enthusiastic young people, grades 7-12, from across the city join the Chief for the unique opportunity to ask the top cop anything.
Young people took the chance to ask the Chief a number of hard-hitting questions that sparked discussions about racial profiling, “carding”, when and why you have to identify yourself to officers, recording police interactions and many other issues affecting young people.
When asked specifically about what rights young people have, the Chief was quick to answer.
“We have the rule of the law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Our job [as police officers] is to uphold them,” said the Chief.
Chief Blair was also happy to reminisce about the “incredible experience” his first days were as a police constable in 51 Division’s Regent Park, explaining to the group that even he wishes he had the benefit of “knowing then, what I know now.”
Many young people in attendance enjoyed the experience, tweeting their comments under the hashtag#KYR2014 that was trending in Canada for most of the day.
“Chief Blair is so inspiring” tweeted @MarcusBw and @johnsonnroddy.
In response to questions about police and community interactions, the Chief was also willing to provide some advice to his officers, "you don't arrest your way into a neighbourhood, you work your way into a neighbourhood."
After the Q&A session, the event continued with breakout sessions and a panel discussion, led by the many community mentors who volunteered to participate.
CBC news anchor Dwight Drummond participated in breakout sessions.
"Dialogue is really important when you are trying to understand someone else's point of view. I think the youth at today's conference will be able to better navigate what could be some tricky situations because of the information they received directly from the Chief," Drummond said. "I personally understood where they were coming from when they were talking about being stereotyped and judged. I tried to share with them how to seek recourse through the complaints process. I also cautioned them on not letting a bad experience with a particular officer colour how they feel about all officers."
Before leaving the event, Chief Blair happily agreed to participate in another gathering, citing the value in providing young people the opportunity to ask questions directly of him and his officers. He was also keen to offer some parting words that reflected the mood of the entire day.
“Stand up for your rights but also be good citizens.”