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Bike-riding parking officer files grievance with Toronto police over Twitter dispute

Kyle Ashley, who remains on personal sick leave without pay, wants to speak out about the probe into his Twitter account.

Kyle Ashley, shown here patrolling in this June file photo, used his Twitter account to scold motorists, including delivery companies, who invade bike lanes, earning applause from cyclists in Toronto.

Jesse Winter/Torstar News Service

Kyle Ashley, shown here patrolling in this June file photo, used his Twitter account to scold motorists, including delivery companies, who invade bike lanes, earning applause from cyclists in Toronto.

Toronto’s famous bike lane protector, off social media since getting in hot water Nov. 3 over his tweets, is starting to speak out.

Kyle Ashley, who remains a parking enforcement officer but on personal sick leave without pay, told the Star on Friday that Toronto Police Association has filed a grievance with the police service over his treatment.

He has started speaking at events and plans to appear Friday on CP24 to talk about his ongoing advocacy for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.

“Despite the fact that I’m ‘persona non Twitter’, that doesn’t affect what I’m going to do with my community,” Ashley told the Star.

“If I decide to stay with Toronto police I’m going to do what I can to get them to buy more into community engagement. They do a fantastic job of posing for pictures with kids and the elderly, but there is a big group out there who need to be reached. Look at people crying out to traffic services every day for police to become more engaged with them.

“I’m simply here taking a risk advocating for my community. It would be easier to sit my ass down with my mouth closed than to speak up about injustice, and about trying to protect people on the road.”

Ashley said that, as far as he knows, the police internal investigation into “inappropriate” tweets continues, seven weeks after two managers arrived at his home on a sick day, accused of him of making numerous “inappropriate” tweets and demanding his social media passwords.

Ashley instead deactivated his Twitter account and has been on sick leave since the probe began.

Mark Pugash, Toronto police spokesman, earlier confirmed that Ashley’s supervisor raised complaints originating in Montreal about his tweets.

The suspension came two days before Denis Coderre lost his Montreal mayoral re-election bid to Valérie Plante, after a campaign that saw Coderre pressured over cyclist safety. A Coderre spokesman has denied knowing anything about Ashley or his suspension.

Pugash has refused to give details on that tweet, or others being probed, citing the ongoing investigation.

On Twitter, Ashley pointedly criticized road safety views expressed by a Toronto councillor and a Liberal MPP. Both told the Star they did not make any complaint about him.

On Friday, Ashley questioned the length of the internal probe. “Murder investigations take less time than investigating tweets,” he said.

His grievance addresses the way police confronted him over his social media advocacy, something for which he had been celebrated internationally.

Ashley burst onto Toronto’s commuting scene in June when he convinced his bosses to let him focus solely on protecting bike lanes. His cheeky use of Twitter to scold motorists, including delivery companies, who invade bike lanes earned applause from cyclists, Toronto’s then-chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat and Mayor John Tory.

Canada Post agreed to stop its trucks from invading the lanes after Ashley singled out the Crown corporation.

The service tasked two other officers to join him in focusing on ticketing vehicles in bike lanes and using social media to spread the word. They continue to patrol bike lanes and tweet.

Last month, Tory responded to a question about Ashley by saying everyone has to use social media responsible but “I hope he’s back on the job soon.”

“It’s obviously not my place to comment on the proceedings that take place inside the police service except perhaps if it came in front of the police services board,” Tory said. “ I will say this — he performed, I think, a positive public service by drawing attention to the fact that people were disregarding the bike lanes and parking their cars there, he was enforcing the law . . .

“I think in that regard it helped me in my dealings with people like some of the courier and delivery companies and so on to send them a message that said, ‘We are just not going to have people flouting the law and we have to have greater consideration given by each of the partners that are sharing valuable public space.’”

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