'We do not accept your apology,' activist tells Toronto's police chief after race-based data released

·8 min read
Newly released internal data from Toronto police shows that officers used force more often against Black people than white people, even when factors like types of arrest, the presence of a weapon and local demographics are accounted for. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Newly released internal data from Toronto police shows that officers used force more often against Black people than white people, even when factors like types of arrest, the presence of a weapon and local demographics are accounted for. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

An expansive Toronto police report released Wednesday confirms what many racialized people in the city have long said: Black, Indigenous and other diverse groups are disproportionately affected by use of force and strip searches by officers.

At a morning news conference, interim Toronto Police Chief James Ramer said the force needs to do better.

"As an organization, we have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and unbiased policing," he said.

  • You can read Toronto police's briefing on the data at the bottom of this story.

"As chief of police and on behalf of the police, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly," Ramer continued. "The release of this data will cause pain for many. We must improve and we will do better."

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

The apology was not welcomed by Beverly Bain from the group No Pride in Policing, which describes itself as a coalition of queer and trans people formed in support of Black Lives Matter Toronto and focused on defunding police.

In a tense moment during the news conference, Bain slammed Ramer's response to the data.

"Chief Ramer, we do not accept your apology," she said, putting a point on an impassioned speech about how Black, Indigenous and other racialized groups have had to deal with police in the city.

Bain called Ramer's apology a "public relations stunt" that is "insulting" to Black and Indigenous people.

"This is not about saving our lives. What we have asked for you to do is stop. To stop brutalizing us. To stop killing us," she said.

More force used against Black people more often: data

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: 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.

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.

Black people greatly over-represented in Toronto enforcement population, use of force and strip search data

Black, South Asian and East/South Asian people were considerably more likely than white people — 1.5 times, 1.6 times and two times, respectively — to have an officer point a firearm at them during an interaction.

The statistics also show that racial differences in use of force remained even after taking into account what police were initially called to investigate and what the main offence turned out to be.

For many racialized groups, the police divisions in which they experienced the highest rates of use of force were also the ones in which they made up a smaller proportion of the population, the analysis found.

"Our own analysis of our data from 2020 discloses that there is systemic discrimination in our policing," Ramer said.

"That is, there is a disproportionate impact experienced by racialized people, particularly those of Black communities."

Focus on systemic racism, not individual officers

The data released Wednesday is anonymized and intended to highlight systemic racism and biases in policing, Ramer said. It will not be used to identify "individual acts of racism" by officers, he added. Those are instances of misconduct and there are other ways for the force to address them, Ramer said. He added that "overt racism" will never be tolerated.

"I'd be really concerned about if everything officers were doing, they were always being identified because I think what would happen is they would become less likely to engage," Ramer told reporters.

Systemic racism is created by racist people. - Notisha Massaquoi

The interim chief also directly addressed Toronto police employees, saying he believes they are more committed than ever to ending systemic racism in the force.

"I want you to know that this is an organizational shortcoming and it does not speak to your actions as individual police officers and civilian members," he said.

"But we, each and every member of the service, should find the information released today difficult and uncomfortable."

But Notisha Massaquoi, an assistant professor with the department of health and society at the University of Toronto Scarborough, pushed back against the idea of separating systemic from individual racism.

"Systemic racism is created by racist people," said Massaquoi, who was the co-chair of the anti-racism advisory panel of the Toronto police board and spent three years leading the process to develop the force's race-based data collection policy.

"You cannot have systemic racism in an organization if it is not supported by racist people, racist policies, racist values, racist attitudes and racist behaviours," she said.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

TPS concedes it has 'misused' race-based data before

Ontario requires the public sector to collect race-based data as part of the Anti-Racism Act. In 2019, the Toronto Police Services Board approved a data policy that would start with use of force and later extend to other police processes such as stops, searches, questioning and the laying of charges.

The use of force data was taken in part from reports that officers submit to the Ministry of the Solicitor General after interactions that necessitate medical attention for community members, as well as any time an officer draws or uses a firearm or Taser, or uses another weapon such as their baton or pepper spray.

WATCH | Lawyer says police must follow up apology with action:

The 949 use of force instances reported in 2020 account for 0.2 per cent of the 692,937 recorded police interactions with the public. Firearms were pointed in 371 of those encounters and used in four, two of which were fatal, according to police.

The release of the data comes in the wake of several recent reports from human rights and police complaint watchdogs that called for major reforms within Toronto police.

In 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) concluded that Black people were "grossly overrepresented" in several types of violent police interactions, including use-of-force cases, shootings, deadly encounters and fatal shootings.

The OHRC reported that between 2013 and 2017 in Toronto, a Black person was nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be shot and killed by police.

A follow-up analysis by the OHRC released in 2020 found that Black people are also more likely than others to be arrested and charged during interactions with Toronto police.

In its new report, the force acknowledged that it has "misused" race-based data in the past. That's an apparent reference to carding — the practice of collecting identifying information during random street checks — which the province moved to significantly restrict in 2017.

Reforms led to dramatic fall in strip searches 

The research released Wednesday also looked at whether any racial groups were disproportionately represented in strip searches.

The results show Indigenous people were 1.3 times overrepresented relative to their presence in arrests. Meanwhile, Black and white people were 1.1 times overrepresented.

Toronto police overhauled their procedures for strip searches in October 2020, leading to a dramatic decline in how many were conducted from that point onward.

Before the changes, about 27 per cent of all arrests in that year included a strip search. That fell to four roughly five per cent afterward.

The policy modifications included that all strip searches be authorized by a supervisor and audited by upper-level management.

The reforms helped to end overrepresentation of Indigenous people in strip searches in 2021, the analysis concluded. But racial discrepancies remained for Black and white residents who were arrested.

The changes were introduced after a 2019 report from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director found that unnecessary and illegal strip searches had become commonplace practice among police forces in Ontario.

The report released this morning also includes 38 actions the force says will help to address racial discrepancies in use of force incidents and strip searches. They include engaging with Black, Indigenous and other communities to understand the data and discuss a path forward; implementing a mandatory review of body-worn camera footage for all use-of-force incidents; and requiring officers on probation during their first year of service to debrief with supervisors after use of force incidents.

During a briefing for the media on Tuesday, a police official said a public-facing online dashboard will keep track of the force's progress in implementing the actions in coming months and years.

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