‘There is systemic discrimination in our policing’: New Toronto police data confirms officers use more force against Black people

Significant. However, most activists remain sceptical, at least the ones I heard on CBC:

The hard data proves what has long been known and felt by members of the city’s Black communities.

Toronto police officers use more force against Black people, more often, with no clear explanation why. Except for race.

That is a key takeaway from a landmark new report containing never-before-seen data on officer use of force and strip searches — statistics that, for the first time, were collected and released by the Toronto Police Service itself.

The race-based statistics are so stark that Chief James Ramer offered an apology to the city’s Black community, coinciding with the release of a 119-slide presentation on the force’s findings.

“I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly,” Ramer said Wednesday morning.

“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.”

Meanwhile, police this weekend warned officers to brace for a “challenging” public reaction that will “lead some people to question the hard work you do every day.” 

Among the major findings: In 2020, Toronto officers used force on Black people about four times more often than their share of the population — and Black Torontonians were five times more likely to have force used against them than white ones. 

And in those cases when force was used, an officer was more than twice as likely to draw a firearm on a Black person they thought was unarmed than a white person they thought was unarmed. 

The statistics show overrepresentation in other racialized communities, too. If you are Indigenous, you were more likely to be subjected to a strip search, a highly invasive police practice; and members of the Latino, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian communities were also more likely to have force used against them.

The sobering data released Wednesday aligns with past external reports that have found Black people are overrepresented in police use of forcein this city. 

But the new data uses internal police records to go a step further, evaluating racial disparities in police use of force not only against the city’s population but within the pool of people interacting with police — those who were arrested, considered suspects, ticketed for provincial offences and more.

“This allows us to compare outcomes against the population that actually had contact with police,” a Toronto police statement said, adding it allows police to “focus our efforts on the actions that we can control.”

In other words: If officers were simply responding to higher rates of crime in any one group, this method should make the racial disparity disappear.

Even here, Black people were overrepresented, found to be 1.6 times more likely to be subjected to force compared to their percentage of total police interactions in 2020. Latino people were overrepresented by 1.5 times and Middle Eastern people were overrepresented by 1.2 times.

And Black people were already more than twice as likely to be the subject of this baseline police enforcement. Although they represented approximately 10 per cent of the city’s population in 2020, they accounted for 22 per cent of what police called “enforcement actions,” including arrests, tickets and other stops.

The police report has been independently peer-reviewed, Ramer said. 

He added: “This is some of the most important work we have ever done.”

Where the data is coming from

The race-based data released Wednesday details the use of force and strip searches conducted by Toronto police in 2020.

The use of force data is taken from Ontario’s “use of force reports” — documents required to be filled out whenever an officer uses physical force requiring medical attention, deploys a TASER, or draws or points their firearm. In 2019, Ontario’s provincial government required all police services to begin recording the officer’s perception of the race of the person they used force against.

Toronto police then cross-referenced these reports with internal “occurrence” reports — allowing them to conduct a deeper analysis, including of the type of call and the location of the incident.

In total in 2020, Toronto police said there were 949 use of force incidents involving 1,224 members of the public. Of those, 39 per cent were perceived as Black, while 36 per cent were perceived as white. (In 2020, 46 per cent of Toronto’s population was white.)

In 2020, Toronto police also began recording officer perception of race for strip searches — an invasive procedure conducted on people who are arrested. For years, Toronto police and other services were not capturing race-based data on strip searches, something critics said was long overdue.

The data analysis independently reviewed “leading experts” in race data collection with a human rights lens, Toronto police said. Since it began collecting race-based data, Toronto police has been consulting with a community advisory committee that includes members of Black, Indigenous and racialized communities.

Use of force — from low to high

Police use of force reports capture a range of interactions. Lower level force includes the use of aerosol spray, a baton, a police dog or a strike with a hand. Less lethal force is the use of a Taser or bean bag gun, and higher levels of force include when a firearm is pointed or discharged.

Of the 949 use of force incidents in 2020, a firearm was pointed at someone 371 times. The gun was fired four times, twice killing someone.

When officers use force, Toronto police were more likely to point a firearm toward a Black person compared to a white person.

Even in situations where police believed the subject was armed, a Black person was 1.5 times more likely to have a gun pulled on them than a white person in the same scenario.

The difference increased even when police didn’t think the subject had a weapon. In that scenario, a Black person was more than twice as likely as a white person to have a police officer pull out their gun and point it at them.

Black, South Asian and East/Southeast Asian people were more likely to experience higher uses of force compared to white people when it came to “less than lethal force,” such as a bean bag gun.



Toronto police also examined police officer use of force rates in police divisions across the city. The results showed that, overall, incidents involving white people had lower use of force rates while those involving Black people had higher use of force rates. 

The differences appear to be stark in some mid-Toronto police divisions, including downtown’s 51 and 52 Divisions. 

In those areas, officers used force on a white person in .5 to .75 per cent of all enforcement interactions (such as arrests). But when the person was Black, force was used in more than 1.75 per cent of these same interactions — numbers that show these divisions used force against Black people around two to four times more frequently.

The differences, Toronto police said, are “not explained” by the demographic makeup of the local population. 

In other divisions there is a much lower racial disparity, or none at all, according to the data. In Scarborough’s 42 Division and midtown’s 53 Division, for example, the data shows no difference in use of force between white and Black people.

Calls for service and types of offences 

In calls for service that were classified as violent, Black people were 1.2 times more likely and Indigenous people were 1.4 times more likely to be on the receiving end of officer use of force, according to the data.

With calls regarding a person in crisis, Black people were nearly two times more likely to be subjected to force, while Indigenous people were 1.4 times.

Black people were found to be more likely to be subjected to police officer use of force in incidents involving assaults, mental health calls, fraud, mischief and robbery. 

Strip searches

In 2020, more than 22 per cent of all arrests — more than one in five — resulted in a strip search by Toronto police (7,114 strip searches in total, from 31,979 arrests). 

Of those, 31 per cent of those strip searched were perceived as Black, roughly three times their share of the population and higher than their 27-per-cent share of total arrests.

Indigenous people showed the highest overrepresentation in strip searches. They were overrepresented by 1.3 times compared to their presence in all Toronto police arrests. They accounted for just three per cent of the total arrests but represented to 4 per cent of all strip searches. 

The data was collected the same year Toronto police made a significant policy change to strip searches in response to a scathing report by Ontario’s police complaints watchdog that found the force conducted “far too many” strip searches. Before, more than 27 per cent of arrests resulted in a strip search; following the changes, which included having a supervisor sign off on all strip searches, that number dropped to 4.9 per cent of arrests.

Data from 2021 shows a marked decline in the number of strip searches, though arrests involving white and Black people were still more likely to result in a strip search, compared to the average. 

Source: ‘There is systemic discrimination in our policing’: New Toronto police data confirms officers use more force against Black people

And a somewhat contrary view regarding the need to include the context of crime rates in communities:

The problem with the Toronto Police report released Wednesday concluding that Blacks, Indigenous people and other racial minorities are disproportionately targeted by police when it comes to use-of-force incidents and body searches, is that it looks at only half the issue. It concludes the reason for this is systemic racism within the police force, for which Police Chief James Ramer publicly apologized and pledged to do better going forward, noting the study recommends 38 “action items” police will implement along with dozens of recommendations in other studies.

But what the report excludes are the crime rates in the various communities with which the police interact.

Logically that’s part of the equation because if they are higher in some communities than others, that will impact the frequency and type of their interactions with police.

However, it has been illegal for police forces in Ontario to gather or reveal this data for decades.

That was the result of a controversy that erupted in 1989 when then Toronto police superintendent Julian Fantino released statistics suggesting Blacks in one Toronto community were disproportionately involved in crime.

Fantino said he did it to counter allegations police were racist.But politicians, criminologists and civil rights groups responded that releasing the data without the context that the Black community was over-policed, was unscientific and would feed into racism.

As a result, race-based police statistics today are used solely to search for systemic bias within policing.

Scot Wortley of the University of Toronto and Maria Jung of Toronto Metropolitan University in a 2020 report for the Ontario Human Rights Commission which concluded Blacks were disproportionately arrested and charged by Toronto police compared to whites, cited both theories to explain why this happens.

One is the “Bias Thesis” which argues, “Black people are over-represented in police statistics because they are subject to biased or discriminatory treatment by the police and the broader criminal justice system. “Rates of Black offending stem from the negative consequences of centuries of colonialism, slavery and racial oppression … The impact of intergenerational trauma and contemporary social disadvantage, in turn, results in higher rates of Black offending.”

An alternative explanation, the “Higher Rate of Offending Thesis” argues “Black people engage in criminal activity at a higher level than other racial groups and this fact is accurately reflected in official crime statistics … when such factors as the criminal history of individuals and the seriousness of their offences are considered, there’s no evidence disparities in arrest rates are the result of police racism.”

The authors of the OHRC study cited “growing evidence (that) suggests that both explanations have merit … (that) the over-representation of Black people in arrest statistics may be caused both by higher rates of offending and racial bias within the criminal justice system.”

That is, police disproportionately arrest and charge Blacks (for example) because while the vast majority of Blacks are law-abiding, a minority are disproportionately involved in criminal activity and the reason is often due to the adverse social and economic conditions faced by Blacks because of systemic racism, not just in the police force, but in society in general.The problem is that by continuously ignoring the issue of crime rates within the communities with which the police interact, we are no longer looking honestly or completely at all aspects of the issue.

This will inevitably contribute to public skepticism among many about the findings of this latest report by Toronto Police identifying systemic racism in the force.

Source: GOLDSTEIN: Here’s why we no longer talk honestly about police race-based data

Ontario Human Rights Commission seeks input on derogatory street, building names

Strikes me among all the human rights issues, this one has to be one of the least important.

Not optimistic that this exercise will result in sensible recommendations that acknowledge historical wrongs but don’t erase our history and historical understandings.

And of course, focussing on names and monuments is easier than addressing economic and social disparities between and among groups:

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is seeking the public’s input as it develops a policy statement on the display of derogatory names, words and images, including the names given to streets and landmarks.

The commission says it wants to address what it calls a “quickly evolving issue” that has increasingly seen Indigenous and racialized communities call for the removal of statues of historic figures “perceived as colonizers, slave owners or who advances racist policies.”

It also points to growing calls for officials to rename roads, buildings and other institutions named after historic figures, for the same reasons.

The organization notes such concerns are not new, noting it was involved in a 2018 case that required the City of Mississauga to remove all Indigenous-themed mascots, names and images not related to Indigenous sports organizations from its sports facilities.

It says human rights law has found that images and words that degrade people because of their ancestry, race, or ethnic group may create a poisoned environment and violate the province’s human rights code.

The commission says the policy statement will focus on the legal obligations of organizations to prevent and address discrimination against Indigenous peoples, racialized communities and possibly other protected groups in situations involving the display of derogatory names and images.

“What’s in a name? Often, everything,” Chief Commissioner Patricia DeGuire said in a statement.

“We continue to hear about communities disturbed by the name of a street, a sports team, a building or a monument. This policy statement is being designed to help foster better understanding of the human rights issues involved, and to prompt communities to work together in a respectful way to overcome these issues.”

Those who wish to weigh in on the issue can complete an online survey or email the commission before Oct. 22.

Source: Ontario Human Rights Commission seeks input on derogatory street, building names

Christie Blatchford: Police and blacks in Toronto: The numbers tell a hard truth

Lot of coverage on the just released report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission but picked Blatchford given her generally more sympathetic coverage of police issues, with her column all the more devastating as a result:

There is nothing like solid data — naked, objective, hard data — even for someone like me, who struggles mightily with numbers.

Numbers are what’s at the core of an Ontario Human Rights Commission report released Monday. I don’t know that it’s the first time the commission has backed up the anecdotal with hard data, but it’s the most astonishing such marriage I can remember.

The report includes analysis of data collected from the Special Investigations Unit, the arms-length agency that probes all serious incidents where police forces in Ontario inflict serious injuries upon civilians.

For the first time, it also includes a review of the SIU director’s reports, a rich trove of heretofore unreleased detail — including descriptions of the circumstances of each incident, assessments of the civilians involved and the justification behind the SIU director’s decision to charge or not charge police.

Using that information, plus SIU investigator notes, case photographs, police documents such as officer notes and even media reports (solely when race couldn’t be otherwise determined) the analyst — University of Toronto associate criminology professor Dr. Scot Wortley — examined 244 completed SIU investigations of civilian/Toronto Police Service encounters in the four years from 2013-2017.

In those years, black people made up about 8.8 per cent of the population in Toronto. Yet, shockingly, they also made up 70 per cent of police shootings that resulted in death, 61 per cent of other sorts of lethal force encounters, almost 29 per cent of all Toronto police use of force cases and fully one quarter of all SIU TPS investigations.

As Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane said, “This inquiry is different from past initiatives. We will examine racial disparities in how police services are provided in Toronto and will marry hard data with lived experience and case law.”

The report is called A Collective Impact, the commission’s interim report on its inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of black Torontonians by police.

Even its aim is different. “The goal of the inquiry is to build trust in law enforcement and make our communities safer,” Mandhane said. That’s exactly what such an inquiry should hope to do, but not all its predecessors have been so clear.

Now, to put this in perspective, it’s important to remember that Toronto police have about 30,000 encounters a year with those it calls “in crisis,” meaning people who are emotionally or mentally disturbed. About 97 or 98 per cent of these end without the use of any sort of force. And encounters with people in crisis account for a significant chunk of those who end up in use of force clashes — almost 30 per cent.

Another troubling note: In a “significant minority” of SIU cases, the SIU director had problems with Toronto Police co-operation, though, a small mercy, such problems were no worse in cases involving black citizens.

One of these issues was delayed or improper notification to the SIU; police are supposed to notify the unit immediately whenever a civilian has been seriously injured or died. Sometimes, police notes indicate there was early awareness someone had been badly hurt, but the SIU was still not called right away.

Sometimes, the SIU director questioned the legal basis for police to have stopped or detained the black person in the first place, or for conducting searches.

And black men were significantly over-represented in SIU investigations of sexual assault complaints — six times more likely than their numbers in the population would suggest.

The data lend heft to the “lived experiences” people have been hearing about for decades and which the commission heard about in focus groups — black Torontonians being stopped because they “matched the description” of a suspect, including a young black man who was running to school, excited about a special event, and was stopped in full view of his classmates, and a black man who earlier this year who was leaving his office and searched in front of his workmates and onlookers both.

“I was feeling embarrassed,” the youth told the commission. “This is not who I am. This is not who I want to be. After that, people were looking at me different, like I was a criminal or some type of thug.”

It’s funny, but not so long ago, I was in a room full of accomplished black citizens; this was the judicial discipline hearing into the conduct of Ontario Court Judge Donald McLeod, one of a few black faces on the bench. Many of them were upset that the hearing had even been called. McLeod is a distinguished man who made it to the bench from a hard background (single mom, subsidized housing) and who in his efforts to pay it forward by founding a non-profit national black organization allegedly crossed a line judges should not cross.

McLeod had been moved to act by the shooting of a pregnant young woman, which hit close to home; he’d gone to school with the young woman’s aunt.

There was a real sense of affront in the room, that somehow, even this good and honourable man who rose so high should have been brought down like this.

It’s not quite the same thing, rather a real sense of injury and injustice, when black people end up, in such out of whack numbers, dead or hurt after encounters with police. We leave it alone to fester at our peril.

Source: Christie Blatchford: Police and blacks in Toronto: The numbers tell a hard truth

Being on social assistance draws more spite than race, colour, gender . . . but not more than being Muslim: survey | Toronto Star

Some interesting insights, particularly with respect to contacts or not between groups:

While racial profiling and sexual harassment may have grabbed the public spotlight, being poor and living on assistance is more likely to elicit hostility and prejudice than race, skin colour or gender — although being Muslim is marginally worse for this.

According to an Ontario Human Rights Commission survey released Friday, one in five Ontarians have negative feelings against those on social assistance, surpassing their unfavourable views against all other groups, except Muslims, who were disliked by 21 per cent of the respondents.

The statistically validated survey of 1,501 Ontarians was the first attempt by the province’s human rights watchdog to measure public awareness, perception and attitudes towards different groups, and learn about personal experiences of discrimination in order to guide its strategic plan in the next five years.

“It is important for institutions, such as the commission, to try and reach people we may not encounter in our day-to-day work, just to get a sense more broadly what some of the sentiments are,” said its chief commissioner, Renu Mandhane.

“It will provide useful info for the commission, for the government and community, about how we can more effectively advance the public discourse about human rights.”

The questionnaire, conducted earlier this year, found 63 per cent of respondents believed race or colour to be one of the most common reasons for discrimination in Ontario, followed by sexual orientation (34 per cent), disability (25 per cent) and creed or religion (24 per cent).

While almost half of the survey participants said they experienced some form of discrimination in the past five years, seven in 10 of Indigenous respondents said they received prejudicial treatment over the time period.

Only four per cent of respondents say they were victims of discrimination as a result of being on social assistance, but those who are unemployed, from the LGBTQ community, who have disabilities, are on a low income and have less education were way more likely to say so.

“People on social assistance tend to map out against the (human rights) code grounds . . . racialized, Indigenous, people with disabilities, single parent. What this data shows us is that even stripping that away, there is a unique form of discrimination that poor people face,” Mandhane said.

“There is a private member’s bill in Ontario right now to include social conditions in the code. This is a solid foundation for the need to have our code modernized to account for the fact that poor people face unique discrimination.”

Mandhane said the lack of exposure to people from different backgrounds can breed ignorance and prejudice.

When asked about how often they came into contact with specific groups, some people were more insulated from diversity than others:

  • 1 out of 10 respondents said they rarely or never interacted with someone with a different ethnic origin or creed and religion
  • 14 per cent had few contacts with people of colour
  • One quarter had no dealinsg with immigrants
  • Two out of five seldom or never interacted with Indigenous or aboriginal people
  • 61 per cent hardly knew of a refugee
  • 66 per cent had little to do with transgender people.

The commission will “start to look at how we reach young people and teach them about human rights. Every time there is some discussion about curriculum, it is a very polarized environment,” said Mandhane.

“But 89 of respondents would support more human rights education in schools, which suggests that this cuts across demographics, across the regions, across income levels and should be a solid basis to move forward on that commitment.”

In response to people in religious and cultural attire, most respondents said they were comfortable seeing someone wearing a Christian cross, Jewish kippah or traditional Mennonite clothing. One out of five felt discomfort with men wearing turbans or women in hijab (head scarf). However, 46 per cent of people disapproved of a niqab or veil covering a woman’s face.

While seven per cent of respondents said they experienced sexual harassment in the past five years, one in 10 women say this happened to them, compared to just three per cent of men.

Four in 10 people believed it was sometimes justified for police to profile certain groups, namely Muslims, Arabs, homeless people, South Asians, young people, Blacks and people with mental health disabilities and addictions.

via Being on social assistance draws more spite than race, colour, gender . . . but not more than being Muslim: survey | Toronto Star

New Ontario Human Rights commissioner Renu Mandhane vows aggressive approach

Good profile on the background and values of the incoming commissioner:

The story underscores the empathy and compassion friends, colleagues and family say 38-year-old Mandhane — academic, lawyer, High Park-Junction resident, mother of two young boys, front line international human rights advocate — brings to her new job as the province’s top domestic rights watchdog, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“It was that moment where I realized, wow, I’m hard-wired to really think about the underdog and the perspective of people who are less privileged than I am.”

Her brother, Piush Mandhane, an Edmonton pediatrician and medical researcher, says Renu “always had a sense of ethics and what is right and wrong. And she’s always been willing to stand up for what she believes in.

“I think Ontario couldn’t have got a better person,” he says. “That position comes with a lot of carrots, and then some sticks. I think she will know when to use which.”

Mandhane leaves her old job as executive director of the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program to take on her new role, beginning Monday.

During her time at the program, Mandhane edited a 2015 research paper on migrants to Canada with mental health issues who are subject to arbitrary imprisonment. It is a bleak assessment of how the country deals with these newcomers, and prompted calls for more humane treatment and an end to indefinite detention.

She also works with PEN International, and through the U of T rights program helped produce a 2015 research paper on freedom-of-speech challenges in India.

With her new role comes a public profile and the power to make change.

Source: New Ontario Human Rights commissioner Renu Mandhane vows aggressive approach | Toronto Star

What Kathleen Wynne can do about anti-black racism

Anthony Morgan, a research lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, proposes the creation of an anti-racism secretariat to undertake research and public education to reduce racism.

Not really sure the extent to which this will be effective, compared to the Ontario Human Rights Commission as well as other activities, governmental and non-governmental, with the comparable objectives:

Peel recently joined Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and London as Ontario jurisdictions where black people are the primary targets of the humiliating, human rights violating police practice of street checks and carding. Peel Police Chief Jennifer Evans has even decided to join the line of other Ontario chiefs who are defiantly committed to continuing this practice despite evidence of its discriminatory impact on black people.

In the realm of child welfare, black children are grossly overrepresented in every Ontario region where there is a sizable black population. After initially being caught flat-footed, the Ontario government has responded by supporting two separate province-wide consultations to address the systemic anti-black racism chronically plaguing Ontario’s policing and child welfare institutions.

It’s likely only a matter of time before similar province-wide government consultations have to be launched to remedy the over representation of blacks in school dropout rates, suspensions and expulsions, Ontario prisons, mental health committals and incidents of police use of deadly force, among others.

Though not as prominent on the public radar as it should be, anti-black hate crime also remains a pressing problem in Ontario. According to annual reports by the Toronto police and Statistics Canada, for the last few years blacks have been the principal target of racist hate-crimes in not only Toronto but across Canada.

Recently in Ottawa, a Black Lives Matter mural was defaced with the following threat: “ALL LIVES MATTER, NO DOUBLE STANDARD, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.” This was the third Black Lives Matter mural to be defaced in Ottawa over the last few months. In another jarring incident in April, a black assembly plant worker in Windsor faced repeated incidents of nooses being tied and mysteriously placed in and around his working space.

The above incidents are not small, isolated and unconnected mishaps enacted by a fringe few. They collectively form part of the continually creeping culture of anti-black racism embedded in the public consciousness, conventions and institutions of Ontario. This culture is critically implicated in constructing a context for black life in which chronic crime, violence, unemployment and poverty too commonly compromise the health and well-being of Ontario’s black population.

None of the above is to suggest that the Ontario government and its institutions are not leading and/or supporting some important work to directly or indirectly address anti-black racism. It is to point out that what is being done is simply not enough.

There remains a powerfully promising institutional response to anti-black racism and other forms of race-based discrimination that the Ontario government is yet to deploy: the Anti-Racism Secretariat. Since 2006, Ontario’s Human Rights Code has provided for the creation of this secretariat mandated to undertake research and public education programming designed to prevent and eliminate racism in Ontario.

For reasons that are unclear, the secretariat has never been established. In the chasm of the Ontario government’s silent inaction, it is tempting to speculate that black people being the primary targets of racism in Ontario is the reason for this.

Source: What Kathleen Wynne can do about anti-black racism | Toronto Star

Ontario must combat racism, says outgoing human rights commissioner Barbara Hall

Barbara Hall’s exit interview:

In an interview at commission headquarters, Barbara Hall said she strongly believes the very success of our society depends on ensuring the disadvantaged or marginalized are able to contribute fully.

“The most discouraging part of this work is the persistence of racism, particularly as it impacts black Ontarians and aboriginal people,” said Hall, whose 10 years as chief commissioner ends Friday.

“We see progress on issues but we need to — as a commission, as a society — be vigilant about these issues. It requires constant pushing.”

Discrimination, Hall said, is something that can touch everyone. As examples, she cited women returning from maternity leave to find their jobs have “mysteriously” disappeared or those sexually harassed at work.

Ontario must combat racism, says outgoing human rights commissioner – Macleans.ca.