Community members denounce Toronto police apology for increased use of force as meaningless

·6 min read
Members of the Black community including No Pride in Policing Coalition's Beverly Bain and author Desmond Cole said without concrete, immediate change, an apology from police is meaningless. (CBC - image credit)
Members of the Black community including No Pride in Policing Coalition's Beverly Bain and author Desmond Cole said without concrete, immediate change, an apology from police is meaningless. (CBC - image credit)

After a Toronto police report showing Black, Indigenous and other diverse groups are disproportionately affected by use of force and strip searches landed with a damning thud in those communities Wednesday, advocates are dismissing an apology from the chief of police and demanding immediate change in policing.

"This is not an aspirational goal. This is something that we are demanding as members of the Black community in Toronto," said Notisha Massaquoi, an assistant professor with the department of health and society at the University of Toronto Scarborough, who spent three years leading the process to develop the force's race-based data collection policy.

"The data tells us exactly what we already knew as Black people … that a) we are over-policed b) that we are disproportionately experiencing harm when engaging with the police," Massaquoi said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Thursday.

Beverly Bain took a similar message straight to Toronto police Wednesday morning, when she made it abundantly clear that interim Chief James Ramer's apology carried no weight for her. Bain is a University of Toronto Mississauga professor and a member of the No Pride in Policing Coalition, which describes itself as a multi-racial, anti-racist queer and trans group fighting for the defunding and abolition of police and prisons.

"This is insulting to Black people. This is insulting to Indigenous people," Bain said, speaking passionately during a police press conference happening just as the data was released.

WATCH | Beverly Bain says the Black community never asked police for an apology:

Bain summed up a feeling shared both on social media and in interviews this week — that for many racialized people, the data only reinforces what has already been known for decades, and that without concrete change, an apology is meaningless.

After Ramer's apology, author and activist Desmond Cole told reporters that while the police chief said the force won't tolerate overt acts of racism, that still leaves room for "the implicit, quiet, subtle, hard-to-prove kind that takes years of data and reporting and study to even acknowledge.

"We're way ahead of them. The Black community have left these folks behind while they're talking about things from ten and 20 years ago," Cole said.

Speaking on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Wednesday before the data's release, Neil Price, the executive director of the non-profit consultancy Logical Outcomes, said it's unsurprising that a police apology wouldn't be met with open arms from members of affected communities.

"The reason why you're hearing this caution, this frustration, and this lack of interest quite frankly … is because the history is so dreadful, and we know that while we are looking at data and talking about apologies, people are dying," said Price, who authored a report on carding practices commissioned by the Toronto Police Board back in 2014.

Report finds BIPOC overrepresented in enforcement

The never-before-seen statistics released Wednesday were drawn from records of 949 use of force incidents and 7,114 strip searches over the course of 2020. The granular analysis, compiled by the force's Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights Unit alongside outside data experts in concert with a 12-member community panel, examines a wide range of questions.

Among its findings: that Black, Indigenous and Middle Eastern people were all overrepresented in the number of "enforcement actions'' taken against them relative to their total population in Toronto. For Black residents, it was by a factor of 2.2 times.

WATCH | Chief Ramer aplogizes for systemic racism with the Toronto Police Service:

In other words, Black people made up about 10 per cent of the city's population that year but faced 22.6 per cent of police enforcement, which includes arrests, provincial offences tickets, cautions and diversions.

Similarly, Black, Latino, East/Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern people were overrepresented by factors of 1.6 times, 1.5 times, 1.2 times and 1.2 times, respectively, when it came to use of force.

Police also tended to use more force against racialized groups more often compared to white people, especially when it came to officers drawing their firearms.

Moya Teklu, executive director of the Black Legal Action Centre, said in a statement that this report simply confirms what Black people have known for decades.

"The police continue to fail to fulfil their purported mandate. They continue to fail to serve and protect Black people. And yet, year after year, all levels of government continue to pour money into police services," Teklu said. "They do this instead of funding Black communities."

"The solution is not to provide the police with more money for body scanners, or training," she said.

"It is to de-task the police and to redirect funding into those services that will actually protect and serve and increase the public safety of Black people."

Toronto police a 'force,' not a 'service,' prof says

Sam Tecle, assistant professor of sociology at Toronto Metropolitan University, told CBC News Wednesday that given these statistics, it's clear that Toronto police isn't providing a service — rather, it is a "force" in the lives of Black people and other racialized groups.

He similarly put no stock in any sort of apology from police, saying that these communities have gotten similar statements of contrition at different points over the last 40 years.

"We cannot accept this apology as even a modicum of any kind of reform," he said, speaking on CBC News Network. "I think we need to start talking about pulling back on policing in Black communities, a moratorium on stopping Black people, because we cannot trust that the police will do this well."

"I think what we can try is that we place external pressure on policing, and do not place faith that they will change and reform themselves."

Ramer, for his part, said during the news conference that he understood the anger and frustration these communities are feeling.

He said police have "committed to this continued cycle of improvement" and will work to end systemic racism.

"We're far from perfect, we've got a lot of work to do. This speaks to it here today," he said.

In a statement released Wednesday, Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson, Toronto's sole Black city councillor, noted the idea of equity-based reform was met with "fierce resistance" from the policing establishment when he served as the vice chair of the city's police services board almost a decade ago.

"It remains to be seen whether this time, the service is ready to make meaningful changes. I do not doubt Chief Ramer's sincerity and personal commitment to eliminating racism. I applaud his efforts," Thompson said.

"But while an apology is a welcome first step, it is just noise unless it is backed by sustained, concrete and systematic actions to dismantle the police service's failed strategies and institute new approaches free from embedded racism."

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