Proving grounds: The Guardian Angels take to Toronto streets, again
They’ve been here since January
2006, Lou Hoffer and his Guardian Angels.
They’ve been out patrolling the downtown core for close to
two months now, recognizable in their red jackets and berets. They’re
doing exactly what the city wants its public to do, they’re
being proactive – and still they can’t get any respect from
the powers that be.
The Guardian Angels is the largest safety patrol organization in
the world. They have over 6,000 members in over 80 cities worldwide.
They have garnered the praise of people like former U.S. President
Bill Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Still, Hoffer
can’t get a meeting with Toronto Mayor David Miller or Police
Chief Bill Blair. The problem is, with money running out, there
may not be much time left.
“We’re definitely under the gun financially,” Hoffer
says, adding the Angels’ debt is mostly from everyday small
business start-up costs.
When he brought the Angels to Canada, he made a decision to not
stump for money right away, preferring to build up a good reputation
before raising funds.
He’s quick to point out that the Angels is a non-profit group
that is for the public and by the public.
“If people don’t want us here, we’re not going to
be here, it’s as simple as that,” Hoffer says.
Misinformation and Ignorance
Hoffer wants you to know that the Angels are not vigilantes, in
fact, 90% of what they do has nothing to do with crime. He wants
you to know he finds the term vigilante insulting. He doesn’t
want you to be misinformed; he doesn’t want you to be ignorant,
much the same way that he wants you to be safe.
The Angels, who patrol areas such as Regent Park, in groups of
at least six, are just doing what the city says it wants, Hoffer
says. They are public citizens being pro-active and caring about
“Here are communities and citizens stepping up and getting
out on the streets in a pro-active sense,” Hoffer says. “Why
would you not take advantage of that and embrace it? Yet you have
a mayor and a police chief who won’t even meet with us.”
The Toronto Police Department could not be reached for comment.
The Guardian Angels started up in New York in 1979, founded by
Curtis Silwa, a former McDonalds night manager. This is not the
first time the Angels have tried to move into Canada. The first
chapter opened up in 1982 and patrolled the GTA until 1984. A second
chapter tried again in 1992, in the Parkdale area. Now, in 2006,
Lou Hoffer and his team, which includes veterans of both those earlier
Angels incarnations, are hoping for a more successful outing. Though,
so far, it hasn’t been that smooth.
Hoffer thinks that most of the ill will towards his organization
is the result of ignorance and misinformation. He points to the
CyberAngels website, an Internet watchdog run by the group, or the
anti-bullying programs that the Angels implement as examples of
what his organization does outside of community patrols.
Hoffer, who spent five years as a Toronto police officer, understands
a little something about safety and crime. What he doesn’t
understand is why the city hasn’t embraced his organization.
The frustration is palpable in his voice when he talks about the
city needing help. He wants you to know that the Guardian Angels
can provide that help. He wants you to know that they’re here
for you if you just give them a chance.
"We’re out there on the streets.” Hoffer said. “There’s
no other organization that is out there on the streets interacting
with the people who need help.
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