Toronto Police's Problem with Race is More Than Systemic

by David Nickle, Senior Advisor on Policy and Communications

Does the Toronto Police Service have a problem with race?

To anyone who’s been paying attention - and of course to Black and Indigenous people who’ve had no choice but to pay attention - that’s an easy question to answer: Of course.

In 2020, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released its second interim report in its inquiry into anti-Black racism in Toronto Police, demonstrating numerically that Black people in Toronto were disproportionately charged by police compared to the rest of the population, and also more likely to be subject of use-of-force by police than other groups. That study encompassed the years 2012 to 2017.

You might think that in 2020, the year that report came out, Toronto Police Service would take note of the damning conclusions, look in the mirror and correct their ways.

You might think that, but you would be wrong.

Using anonymized data from 2020, a just-released report - from the Toronto Police Service itself - confirmed that its officers were still disproportionately deploying force and strip searches to members of Toronto’s Black and racialized communities. Toronto Police knew the problem - were reminded of it in a detailed report that very year. And yet nothing had changed.

This time, Toronto Police Chief James Ramer offered an apology – along with an explicit acknowlegement that systemic discrimination exists in policing and it harms Black people disproportionately.

Charitably, that apology could be called a baby step. But for those in Toronto who have experienced that systemic discrimination over many decades, there was no call to be charitable.

As Councillor John Filion puts it: "Members of our community who've experienced racism all their lives are, very understandably, fed up with repeated apologies and vague promises of reform. To gain trust, the Police need to demonstrate real action that will lead to measurable change."

On Wednesday, members of Toronto’s Black and racialized community came to the Toronto Police Services Board to express their anger directly to the Chief and board members. Systemic though Toronto Police Service’s discrimination problem may be, the fact is that it’s been demonstrated with specific acts of violence and violation over not just the 2020 calendar year. The victims of those acts are individual human beings, and so are the perpetrators.

Redressing those injustices, and ensuring they don’t happen again, cannot happen without holding perpetrators to account.

The Toronto Police Services Board, to its credit, has recognized this. On Wednesday members voted to ask the service to review its policies on the collection of race-based data, and look at allowing data to be analyzed at an officer level.

It is essential that the service be able to do so.

Toronto Police Service’s problem with race may be systemic, but any system is the sum of the people who work within it. Undoing systemic racism in Toronto Police won’t happen without holding the officers who support it accountable.

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