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Toronto police chief apologizes to Black community as race-based data released

Toronto Police Chief James Ramer attends a news conference at Toronto Police headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto's Black residents received an apology from the city's interim police chief on Wednesday as the force released previously unseen race-based data showing disproportionate use of force on them, although the gesture was immediately rejected by some.

Interim chief James Ramer said the force needs to do better.

"We have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and unbiased policing," he said at a news conference. "For this, as chief of police and on behalf of the service, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly."

The newly released statistics show Black people faced a disproportionate amount of police enforcement and use of force and were more likely to have an officer point a gun at them – whether perceived as armed or unarmed – than white people in the same situation.

Ramer acknowledged the data "will cause pain for many."

"We recognize that when a person has an encounter with the police, it can have a profound impact on their life, their mental health and their trust in policing," he said.

"It is for this reason that the Toronto Police Service must be a driving force and a leader in eliminating all forms of racial discrimination in policing and anywhere it is found."

Ramer said the data will not, however, be used to assess or discipline specific officers, noting it is anonymized and meant to examine systemic racism. There are already internal systems, watchdogs and legal processes in place to deal with officer misconduct, and "overt racism will not be tolerated," he said.

Ramer's apology was swiftly rejected by some.

"This is insulting to Black people," Beverly Bain, with the No Pride in Policing Coalition told the interim chief at the news conference, noting that Black people have called for years for police to stop treating them unfairly.

"When you talk about systemic change and you talk about the system, you make it seem as though it's a structure that's somehow a separate entity from that of what is happening on the ground," she said.

"Chief Ramer, we do not accept your apology."

Syrus Marcus Ware, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada, said pouring more money into policing won't make the system any safer for racialized communities, adding some of those funds should instead be redirected to community centres, housing and other supports.

"This constant influx of more and more and more funding into a system that is not working, it is not serving us, it's not keeping our communities safe or more secure," he said.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Black Legal Action Centre noted many earlier reports and studies have highlighted systemic racism in policing.

"Police have continued to paint community concern around these issues as anecdotal while actively suppressing the very data that they released today," Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a special advisor on anti-Black racism for the CCLA, wrote in a statement.

"Although they have now been forced to release this information, it still only provides a small window into the ways that Black and other racialized communities are disproportionately impacted by police actions."

The statistics released Wednesday relate to incidents that took place in 2020.

The figures show Black people – though they made up about 10 per cent of the city's population that year – faced 22.6 per cent of police enforcement action, which includes arrests, provincial offences tickets, cautions and diversions.

At the same time, 39.4 per cent of use of force incidents involved Black people.

The statistics were the first to be released under the force's race-based data policy. The policy was implemented in 2019 following several reports on race and policing as well as provincial legislation requiring several public sectors to collect such information.

There were 949 use-of-force incidents involving 1,224 people in 2020, according to the data. Researchers were able to link use-of-force reports – which include information on "perceived race" – to police incident reports for 889 of them to get more detail.

In 371 incidents, a police firearm was pointed at someone, and in four, it was fired. Two incidents led to fatal injuries.

Middle Eastern people were also overrepresented when it came to enforcement and use of force, while other groups – such as Latino and East and Southeast Asian residents – experienced less enforcement in comparison to their representation in the population but saw more use of force when they did interact with police.

Indigenous people faced more enforcement, but proportionately slightly less use of force in those interactions, according to the data.

White people, who represented roughly 46 per cent of Toronto’s population in 2020, faced proportionately less enforcement and less use of force.

East or Southeast Asian people were 1.6 times more likely than white people to have a gun pointed at them, and South Asian people were twice as likely.

Black people were 1.5 times more likely than white people to have a gun pointed at them when they were perceived to have a weapon and 2.3 times more likely when no weapon was perceived. In both situations, white people were more likely than Black people to face lower levels of force.

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 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.

Indigenous, Black and white residents also were strip searched disproportionately compared with how many of them were arrested.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said it is "unacceptable" that Black, Indigenous and racialized people are overrepresented in use-of-force incidents and strip searches, but stressed the data will help ensure progress in addressing – and eventually eradicating – systemic racism in policing.

Toronto police laid out 38 recommendations to address the findings.

Those 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.

The union representing Toronto police officers said it condemns any form of racism, but added the data released lack key context that would be required to "determine the best path forward."

- with files from Maan Alhmidi

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2022.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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