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‘You can’t silence me’: Parking officer’s Twitter account suspended by Toronto Police

The Twitter accound of Kyle Ashley, a bicycle-riding parking enforcement officer, was shut down Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, by Toronto Police Services.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

An outspoken Toronto parking officer who had his Twitter privileges suspended by his bosses is refusing to be silenced.

Kyle Ashley, a bicycle-riding parking enforcement officer, drew a quick following over the summer with his on-the-job selfies and Twitter chastisement of drivers who park in bike lanes. The new profile brought praise by politicians and raised enough attention to embarrass Canada Post into promising to no longer block bicycles.

He had also shown a willingness to take on high-profile targets, including early Friday when he tweeted at an Ontario MPP that the politician's reasons for championing a distracted walking bill were "dribble." Within hours, the account known as @TPS_ParkingPal vanished. Police, who oversee parking enforcement in Toronto, said some of the employee's content had raised concerns and was being examined. They would not be more specific. The account's disappearance drew quick attention from Toronto's cycling community, who lamented the loss of one of the city's most prominent road-safety voices.

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But Mr. Ashley said he will continue to have a role in safety, working with advocacy groups and city officials to bring the value of his perspective.

"You can silence my Twitter, but you can't silence me," the 29-year-old told The Globe and Mail Friday afternoon. "I'm just trying to make a difference. I don't have a mean bone in my body."

Mr. Ashley would not comment on his dealings with supervisors over his Twitter account. He continues to be employed as a parking officer and is planning to go to work Monday. Police were also tight-lipped, refusing to cite individual tweets that had raised concerns.

The officer's union could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jared Kolb, the executive director of the advocacy group Cycle Toronto, said that the silencing of Mr. Ashley was a loss for those who ride in the city.

"He, I think, was able to restore confidence in the police's role in removing those motor vehicles that park in the bike lanes. Many [cyclists] had just given up," Mr. Kolb said. "On road safety, I'd say it's really worrisome, the tone of traffic services communications around road safety … too often they resort to victim blaming and too often resort to moral equivalence. I think Kyle's voice had a huge impact on that."

The move against Mr. Ashley came after he seemed to have become more prominent in his advocacy.

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A few weeks ago he appeared at City Hall – out of uniform and on a day off – to make a public statement in favour of keeping the Bloor Street bicycle lanes. He has weighed in on Twitter about parking and cycling matters in Montreal, raising the ire of senior politicians there. And early Friday there was his challenge of Ontario MPP Yvan Baker, who wants to ban people from walking while looking at their phones, in a series of tweets.

In the interview, Mr. Ashley argued that he had to use the platform he had. "After being on Twitter for only a few weeks … it became abundantly clear the community, other than Cycle Toronto, didn't have a voice through which their agency could be exercised," he said.

Police felt differently and there has been internal pushback about his outspokenness. That seemed to have been settled, though police said Friday that they were still hearing criticism of Mr. Ashley's online messages.

"I'd be the first to say he's done some excellent work … but we're also getting concerns and feedback," said Toronto Police Service director of communications Mark Pugash. He said they were going over the tweets to assess their propriety.

The suspension caused a flurry of negative attention on Mr. Ashley's preferred medium, with Twitter users calling out the police for squelching such a strong pro-safety voice. "Meanwhile, TO police have launched a campaign to tell pedestrians they bear responsibility if they are hit by cars," John Bowker wrote.

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