“Ring Ring Ring!” was the rallying cry shouted by protestors at High Park yesterday as hundreds of cyclists gathered at the Ride for Safe Streets in favour of cyclist rights and in protest of police aggression.  

The rally in motion was organized by Dave Shellnutt, best known for his moniker “The Biking Lawyer,” a local attorney who specializes in legal cases encompassing abuse directed toward cyclists. 

The event was the byproduct of several recent instances where cyclists have been targeted for harassment by city officials and local law enforcement — specifically in High Park and surrounding areas — harassment that Shellnut is forthright in saying is being circulated by Toronto mayor John Tory. 

“I think that John Tory and the Toronto police’s focus on High Park as a safety issue, regarding the streets of Toronto, just shows how out of touch they are with what’s going on or are even willfully blind to the problems on the roads. The number of people who turned up here speaks to the problems that we have out there,” Shellnutt told The Hoser. 

David Shellnutt, better known as The Biking Lawyer, spoke to the crowd at High Park on August 11, 2022. Photo by Laura Proctor

The recent issues that have garnered the most attention surround the rampant ticketing that has been enacted by the city, as well as overall aggression towards the cycling community.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that someone isn’t parked in a bike lane, and when asked to leave, refuses. There isn’t a day that goes by that I get honked at for doing something that I’m legally allowed to do, whether that’s taking a lane or using the space that’s allotted to me. Harassment from cars, harassment from police and even harassment from pedestrians walking the street,” states a cyclist and protestor who asked to go by ‘Reggie.’

This drip-feed of aggravation has only added to the powderkeg of targeted abuse claims that have been amassing over the course of the summer, with Shellnutt’s official post for the event citing several specific cases.

Alleged instances in which plainclothes officers have erratically engaged cyclists for violations and the most unimaginable of examples involving off-duty officers assaulting cyclists outright. Other incidents include — but are not limited to — tickets being handed out to cyclists on the grounds of trespassing, direct statements from the mayor encouraging the targeting of cyclists as well as salaried officers penalizing cyclists while ignoring the very rules they have been enforcing. 

Cyclists gather at Toronto’s High Park for a ride for safe streets and against police harassment of cyclists on August 11, 2022. Photo by Laura Proctor

These recent reports have not only given city cyclists immense pause for concern, but it has also resulted in an uptick in anti-police rhetoric, with “Defund the Police” being sported on protestor regalia and being roared amongst the crowd over the chimes of bike bells and whistles. 

“What led me here today is the police’s response to the most recent issues that have developed here in High Park, the harassment by off-duty police officers, but also primarily the design of this city and the focus of this city, which has always been based around cars,” says Reggie. 

The microscope of cyclist scrutiny at the event didn’t stop at police intervention, as the entire DNA of Toronto streets is also under assessment. Primarily, how recent initiatives have been a mishmash of half-baked endeavours for a cyclist-friendly system that has yielded little to no results in terms of cyclist safety. 

“I came here along Bloor and I had to dodge potholes and patios, we don’t have a comprehensive or connected bike system… and more than anything any further infrastructure added to this city continues to support car traffic, and I want that changed,” Reggie adds. 

The solutions to the combined woes of the Toronto cycling community are just within reach, with many at the event sporting signs in support of the ‘Idaho Stop.’ A legal maneuver that has been active in the states for decades, where a cyclist can treat a stop sign as a yield sign and a red light as a stop sign, further allowing them better protection on city roads. 

Cyclists gather at Toronto’s High Park for a ride for safe streets and against police harassment of cyclists on August 11, 2022. Photo by Laura Proctor

However, like any solution to a bureaucratic problem, a complete reassessment of Toronto’s cyclist laws and lanes is what those at the event are demanding, as they say this is the only way to achieve lasting change. 

“I think if we automated enforcement, such as parking in bike lanes, blowing through stop signs and the risk of open car doors, like other cities in the world are doing, we can really curb a lot of bad behaviours. Safe infrastructure takes different road users away from one another and reduces the conflict zones,” says Shellnutt. 

Cyclist protection does not have to be built from the ground up, and according to Shellnutt, there are those within the provincial system who are actively trying to lay the groundwork for this change, such as NDP MPP Jesica Bell and her petition for Protecting Vulnerable Road Users

“This kind of legislation would give real teeth to penalties towards folks who injure cyclists behind the wheel,” says Shellnutt. 

While there has been no lasting reevaluation of the High Park initiative by the city, or of the cases of police misconduct, Shellnut hopes that the examples of yesterday's events showcase just how serious both himself, his firm and Toronto cyclists are for their safety. 

“As lawyers for cyclists who have been injured, we know how difficult things are for the people out there. So seeing this particular amount of resources be put towards a minor community issue and something that isn’t back with stats and data is frustrating and something I hope we can change,” says Shellnutt.  

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Aug 12, 2022
Local News
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