We took a cursory look at these claims and found evidence of active duty police trying to intimidate a family business both in uniform and by posing as members of the public. We also found much, much darker things.
As if being in the food service industry wasn’t hard enough in the era of COVID-19, Foodbenders, a Bloordale restaurant, claims they are now facing a wave of harassment by police and their supporters.
Torontolife.com describes Foodbenders as a “healthy lunch counter (it) caters to the veggie-and-vinyasa set with kale salads, hummus-and-avocado sandwiches and other prepared foods.”
A quick glance at social media shows Foodbenders is no stranger to controversy. In 2019, the restaurant announced on social media that it was being targeted by Zionist trolls after putting signage in its window intended to express solidarity with the people of Gaza.
On June 13, 2020 the Instagram page belonging to Foodbenders put up a short video which showed a man in a blue ball-cap standing outside the restaurant. The man was in the process of distributing pro-police posters. The Instagram posting alleges that marked police cars were sitting nearby to the restaurant at the time.
On video, the man explains that he is exercising his right to use the public sidewalk to promote the Toronto Police. According to accounts posted on the restaurant Instagram the man grew verbally combative. When a minor who works at the business exited the store to retrieve the offending sign, the man allegedly called her a “pussy”.
Another video posted a few hours after the counter-demonstrator departed shows two bicycle mounted officers sitting on Bloor street opposite the business. They are not moving.
This came after a week of what Foodbenders have claimed was targeted harassment by Toronto police, including several slow passes by patrol cars. The Foodbenders Instagram account also alleged that earlier in the week, a Toronto Police bicycle patrol officer had kicked their outdoor signage over.
According to their own social media postings, the folding chalkboard outside of Foodbenders is emblazoned with a slogan critical of the police. “No Justice, No Peace, Fuck the Police” is chalked on one side. The other side of the sign appears to show a list of other institutions and individuals, including the FBI, the CIA and the Prime Minister of Israel.
Anti-police rhetoric has recently entered the mainstream following a wave of populist uprisings across the United States. The central demand of demonstrators is to defund or even abolish the police in their entirety. In Toronto, this sentiment has been echoed by local activists after a Black and Mi’kmaq Toronto woman Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death from a High Park apartment balcony while police were attending a call at her residence. Regis’ family have claimed that her death occurred under suspicious circumstances. The province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has invoked its mandate in her death.
A cropped screenshot of a photograph of the Foodbenders sign (you read that right) has circulated in far-right groups online, garnering much criticism. Over the past week, many negative comments and reviews have been left on the restaurant’s social media, including both their Instagram and Facebook pages. Some of these comments are threatening.
There is quite a lot of pro-police sentiment being expressed by visitors on the restaurant’s typically upbeat, health and wellness focused Instagram page. Some of the comments were authentic while some of the comments appeared to be inauthentic in nature.
The majority of the comments expressed support for police or opposition to the profanity used on the restaurant signage. As word spread that Foodbenders was being targeted, more and more of the comments appeared to defend the business.
Another business even appeared to step up, commenting on the Foodbenders Instagram that they planned to offer free pizza to police.
Except, try as hard as we could, we couldn’t identify a Claudios Pizaa(sic) anywhere in the City of Toronto, or even the Greater Toronto Area. Claudio’s Instagram page does not list contact information for the business.
The vast majority of followers of @claudios_pizaa appear to be active duty Toronto police, the majority of whom work at Toronto Police Service 22 Division.
One of the most ardent supporters of the Claudios Pizza page, liking almost every posting and commenting on several, is a 22 Division officer named Nicholas ‘Nic’ Hugo Snyckers.
22 Division’s Finest
Snyckers’ social media is, at the time of this writing—an open book. He describes himself on Instagram as a ‘Sheepdog and sheepdog dad.’
“Sheepdog” in this case is a reference to the book ‘On Combat’ which defines the ‘sheepdog’ as a person whose social role it is to protect the ‘sheep’ from ‘wolves’. This text is used in police trainings. It is (pun intended) a heck of a dogwhistle.
“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.” Or, as a sign in one California law enforcement agency put it, “We intimidate those who intimidate others.” (Source: On Combat | Grossman)
Slate.com has a powerful article about the manner in which this analogy has become the prevailing theory in policing and the detrimental effect this has had on the Black Community. This is as true in Canada, as it is in America. “White Americans, in general, view threats through the lens of race. Studies show that many Americans believe black men are the most dangerous group in America. Experiments, using first-person shooter video games, have shown that unarmed black men are more likely to be shot than their white counterparts by police officers. In other words, some “sheepdogs” tend to reflexively identify black people as “wolves.” Is it a coincidence that black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police? Or that America has seen a rash of unarmed (mostly black) Americans killed by armed civilians in recent years?” (Source: Slate.com)
Amongst other politically charged postings and assorted brushes with COVID-19 denial, Snyckers has posted tributes to deceased Luftwaffe (Nazi) officers and tributes to the South African Defence Force, the army of South Africa’s apartheid government.
On Pinterest Snyckers uses the name ‘bushpig47‘. A book about the police force of Rhodesia ‘Bush Pig District Cop’ bears the same title and appears to describe actions taken by a Rhodesian police unit during a “dirty war” waged by the forces of Apartheid South Africa and “Rhosdesian” paramilitary units against Zimbabwe and various Black rebel groups. Rhodesia nostalgia has been linked by Zimbabwean activists to what they call ‘extreme hatred’. In 2019 Canadian media outlet Ricochet won a number of awards for a story which revealed an online army surplus store linked to white-supremacism and Rhodesia nostalgia ‘was being run by members of the Canadian Forces.
For greater clarity, this is an active duty Toronto Police Officer sharing a post which honours an O.G. Nazi and the armies of Apartheid. The other sources he has shared content from range from Covid-denying, anti-semitic conspiracy theory and ‘anti-anti-fascist’ pages, as well as statements from mainstream Conservative Canadian politicians criticizing Motion 103. M-103 was a Canadian government motion to condemn Islamophobia which garnered vocal opposition from Canada’s far right. Toronto Police Services have been challenged over their role in protecting far-right demonstrators at anti-Muslim rallies.
Snyckers has also publicly expressed an intention to quit his job over growing calls for the abolition of policing.
A Nicholas Hugo Snyckers is listed on the Sunshine list as an employee of Toronto Police Service 2014 to present. In 2017 he earned $101,470.98. A Nicholas Hugo Snyckers is also listed as a Vancouver coroner in the early 2000s, and was the media contact for a 2003 inquest into the death of Mohamed Aramesh, a Pakistani man who, like Regis Korchinski-Paquet, plunged to his death from an apartment balcony. That case was suppressed under federal anti-terrorism legislation. In a 2005 filing, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association had the following to say:
“Mohamed Aramesh was a Muslim Canadian of Pakistani descent living in Vancouver’s West End. He died by falling from out of his apartment window in an apparent attempt to evade the RCMP who were executing a warrant to search his residence in August 2003. Media reports suggested Mr. Aramesh may have been linked to the drug trade and that identification documents with different names were found in his apartment. An RCMP/INSET spokesperson is quoted as saying: “We’re trying to determine right now and confirm if this person was linked to a [terrorist] group or groups. We don’t know. [INSET] focus on the criminal activity of individuals or groups linked to terrorism. This file belongs to INSET and by their true nature of doing national security investigations, they don’t discuss ongoing investigations.”84 According to media reports, neither the Vancouver Police nor INSET will confirm why Aramesh is suspected of terrorist activities.85 The search warrant for drugs was sealed after his death and because Aramesh died while in police custody, a coroner was reported to be undertaking an inquiry into his death.” (Source: BCCLA | 2005)
So who was behind @claudios_pizzaa?
The 22 Division website lists a Constable Claudio Rescigno as an employee of the division. On Facebook, a Markham resident Claudio Rescigno has interacted with the community page for the Gozney pizza oven which is featured on the @Claudio_pizaa Instagram page.
Two hours after the posts were made to the restaurant’s social media on the morning of Saturday June 13, we called Constable Rescigno and asked whether his pizzas were available for delivery. Rescigno laughed and then paused. When he learned he was speaking with a journalist he said “I’m at work right now so I can’t talk about this.” Rescigno then hung up.
According to the Ontario sunshine list, Rescigno earned $130,959.68 in 2019. He is is a visible contributor on Snycker’s social media postings, including one recent posting about the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet where the two make their opinions very clear. The efficacy and security of the SIU investigation into Regis’ death has been called into question following alleged leaks by members of the Toronto Police Service, to the Toronto Sun tabloid.
Foodbenders issue statement
We were unable to reach Foodbenders proprietor Kimberly Lauren for comment before press-time, but the restaurant did publish a statement addressed to the “Karens of Bloordale” explaining the intent behind using the slogan on their signage.
“It’s disappointing that you interpret the sign this way. Let me clarify the meaning of the statement on the sign as you requested.
To say “Fuck the Police” is to make a political statement about policing as a racist institution. The job of the police officer is to enforce racist colonial law using the state’s monopoly on violence. Canada is a settler colonial nation that came into existence by stealing land and committing genocide against Indigenous people, while building infrastructure with the exploited labour of people of colour who were denied full citizenship rights. This racist apartheid system has evolved over time, continuously reinventing ways to criminalize, brutalize and incarcerate people of colour.
When we say fuck the police, we are saying fuck you to the institution of policing that is racist by this definition. It is not a message of hate or violence toward individual police officers, it’s a statement of solidarity with the people of colour, the sex workers, the drug users, people with disabilities, the homeless people, and everyone else who is fed up with the fucked up system! Black and Indigenous lives matter to us, so we say FUCK THE POLICE, even if it means we lose customers and friends.”
(Source: Foodbenders | Instagram)
So what is going on at Foodbenders? Is this a campaign of publicly-funded gang harassment targeting an outspoken business owner? Are the ‘bad apples’ in 22 Division marking themselves for removal or putting the whole division or force in a position to be defunded? That’s certainly what the restaurant has claimed on social media, and what our own investigation has confirmed. And, it all unraveled over a slice of za.
Update 15/06/2020: A quote in the second paragraph of the article erroneously stated that Foodbenders is located in Dundas West. It is in fact in the Bloordale Neighbourhood.
Update 15/06/2020: Misspelling in the name of ‘Regis Korchinski-Paquet’.
Update 15/06/2020: Added context to elaborate on relationship between Nicholas Hugo Snyckers’ SADF support posts and visible Rhodesia nostalgia.