A new report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has found that Black people are more likely than others to be arrested, charged or have force used against them during interactions with Toronto police.
The report, which is the second interim report in the OHRC’s inquiry into racial profiling and discrimination, includes an analysis of Toronto Police Service data from 2013 to 2017. You can read the entire report at the bottom of this story.
“The results … are highly disturbing, and confirm what Black communities have said for decades — that Black people bear a disproportionate burden of law enforcement,” the commission said in a news release.
The study found that although Black people make up only 8.8 per cent of Toronto’s population, they represent almost 32 per cent of people charged, while white people and other racialized groups were underrepresented.
The report also found that only a fifth of all charges laid in that time frame resulted in a conviction, but charges against Black people were more likely to be withdrawn and less likely to result in a conviction, which the commission says “raises systemic concerns about charging practices.”
The data analyzed by the OHRC also shows that Black people represent 38 per cent of people charged with marijuana offences, despite conviction rates and studies showing they use cannabis at similar rates to white people.
“The time for debate about whether anti-Black bias exists is over. The OHRC calls on the TPS, TPSB, the City of Toronto and the Government of Ontario to take immediate action to address systemic and anti-Black racism in policing and to respect and protect racialized people in Toronto,” said Ena Chadha, OHRC interim chief commissioner, in a statement.
“It is time to make transformative changes in the institutions and systems of law enforcement that produce such disparate outcomes — community trust and safety, especially the safety of Black lives, depend on it.”
‘None of the findings … are a shock’
Racial justice lawyer Anthony Morgan, manager of the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, said at a Monday morning news conference that Black communities and their allies don’t need another report showing the systemic problems with policing in Toronto.
“None of the findings in these reports are a shock or really a surprise,” Morgan said.
Instead, he said, this report is for policy makers, politicians and people in positions of power in the justice system, and he hopes it will be discussed at length by people in those roles.
Included among the report’s other findings was data that showed Black people represented 34 per cent of people involved in single-charge “out-of-sight” driving charges like driving without insurance, which lead researcher and University of Toronto professor Scot Wortley noted could only be discovered by police observing the race of a driver or stopping and questioning a driver.
Black people were also involved in 25 per cent of all investigations from the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which probes incidents of death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault, the report found.
They were also involved in 39 per cent of cases involving “low-level” use of force, which doesn’t meet the SIU’s threshold for an investigation.
In a statement issued Monday, Toronto police and the city’s police services board said they view the report as being “vitally important [to] our continued efforts to critically examine and act to address anti-Black racism.”
“The Toronto Police Service is committed to accountability and community input to ensure we foster a human-rights based approach to policing and combatting systemic racism. We are continuing to work on ensuring that equity and anti-racism are built into all of our policies and practices,” said Toronto police’s Interim Chief Jim Ramer, in a statement.
The news release also lists a number of measures the board and police say have been instituted to combat anti-Black racism in recent years, like the creation of an equity, inclusion and human rights unit, as well as anti-Black racism training and the implementation of a race-based data collection strategy.
But, Chadha noted at Monday’s news conference, neither Toronto police, the board, nor the city’s mayor have committed to legally binding remedies that would “result in fundamental shifts in the practices and culture of policing,” which the OHRC is calling for.
“We say the community deserves no less than that,” she said.
‘They are Black lives, and Black lives matter’
Chadha also said Monday that it’s important to remember that these numbers are more than just statistics.
“They are Black lives, and Black lives matter,” she said.
Wortley said it’s important to note that a public perception exists that Black people end up in interactions with police at disproportionate rates because of their involvement with guns and gangs.
“Our data challenges this stereotype,” he said.
Instead, the data found that most use-of-force incidents involve unarmed civilians with no criminal record. Few cases involved a gun — but many cases involved people in a mental health crisis or suffering from addiction issues.
The next phase of the commission’s inquiry will involve a final report, which will examine police training, policies, procedures and accountability mechanisms. It is set to be released by the end of 2020.