In September 2021, she was handcuffed by Toronto police near Queen’s Park subway station, told she was being charged with assaulting a police officer and taken to the station for hours before she was released unconditionally. Over that, Ila, 34, filed a formal complaint; among her allegations were that she’d been racially profiled by police after participating in a protest against last summer’s encampment evictions; “treated like this because I am a Black woman.”
Earlier this month, the Toronto police professional standards unit told her there was insufficient evidence of racial profiling. Police said her arrest had been an “unfortunate error” and that she matched the description of another Black woman.
Then, days later, Ila watched as Toronto’s chief of police gave an unprecedented apology to her and all other racialized Torontonians.
“As Chief of Police, and on behalf of the Service, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly,” Ramer said at a news conference revealing statistics — prepared by the force itself — proving something Ila says she’s known for years: That Toronto police use more force on racialized people, especially Black people, more often.
“As challenging as it is for me as chief and for members of our command and service to come to terms with what our data tells us,” Ramer said, “I know that it will be even more difficult for those from Toronto’s Black communities who have been telling us for many years of their experiences.”
Welcomed by some as a critical acknowledgment of systemic discrimination — Ramer has committed, too, to a 38-step action plan for change — many Black Torontonians like Ila have pushed back against the apology, or flatly rejected it. The reason many cited: the findings should not have come as a surprise to anyone, let alone the police. The apology landed far too late.
“It just makes me think like, ‘Wow, they really think they can just kind of offer an apology and that’s good enough,’ ” Ila said, explaining why she’s skeptical the chief’s words will lead to real change and accountability.
More reaction — and criticism — is expected Wednesday as the Toronto police board meets to discuss the race-based statistics report at police headquarters.
“From my perspective, there’s nothing new in this news,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a University of Toronto criminologist who researches policing and race. “These are things that Black communities have been talking about and complaining about for quite literally decades.”
The Jamaican Canadian Association has been protesting police bias since the 1960s, noted president David Betty, describing how the JCA launched a “relentless” effort to change how Black communities were being policed in a series of deputations to the Toronto police board nearly 50 years ago.
“We’ve been at it for a long time,” Betty said in an interview this week. “It doesn’t seem like we’ve made much progress when you look at the data that came out.”
Fatal police shootings of Black men set off urgent calls for change throughout the ’70s and ’80s. In 1978, Buddy Evans was fatally shot on a sidewalk near a King Street West nightclub by a Toronto officer. The following summer, Albert Johnson, 35, was fatally shot inside his home.
Two back-to-back shootings of Black men by GTA police in 1988 — Lester Donaldson, 44, and Michael Wade Lawson, 17 — brought more outrage. The deaths prompted a provincial “Race Relations and Policing” task force and in 1990 led to the establishment of the Special Investigations Unit, the Ontario civilian police watchdog that investigates fatal police encounters.
But fatal shootings of Black men kept happening.
For nearly two decades, there has also been data backing up individual accounts of the over-policing of Black people.
In 2002, the Toronto Star published a series analyzing police arrest data obtained through a freedom of information request, numbers that showed Black people were disproportionately arrested or ticketed for offences like simple drug possession.
Police brass and the officers’ association pushed back. Then-Toronto police chief Julian Fantino denied that officers were engaged in racial profiling: “There’s no racism,” he said.
The Toronto Police Association went further. The union sued the Star for $2.7 billion, its lawyer saying it’s “a very serious thing to accuse a police service of racism and racial profiling, and we hope it never occurs again.” The lawsuit was dismissed.
“They went out of their way to totally disparage the work that the Star had done,” said Michael Friendly, a York University professor and expert in statistical analysis and methodology who reviewed the paper’s methods before the stories ran.
In an interview last week, Friendly applauded the Toronto police for its report but said it was “way, way long overdue.”
In the early 2010s, there was still “fierce resistance” to reforms, Coun. Michael Thompson, the city’s only Black councillor, said last week. When he was vice-chair of the Toronto police board, he and then-chair Alok Mukherjee pushed for change, to no avail, Thompson said.
Thompson applauded Ramer for the apology and does not doubt the chief’s “sincerity and personal commitment to eliminating racism.” But added: “It remains to be seen whether this time, the service is ready to make meaningful changes.”
Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch, the first Black judge at the province’s highest court, was tapped to review Ontario’s police oversight bodies. Among his dozens of recommendations: that police watchdogs begin collecting demographic data.
“Without data and research, the conversation about police violence and racial profiling is dominated by allegations and anecdotes. People are more likely to pay attention to research,” Tulloch wrote in his report.
And many did pay attention when, in 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission published the first of two major reports on Toronto police and race. Black people are “grossly overrepresented” in cases in which Toronto police have used force, particularly fatal shootings, the commission found.
A followup report in 2020, prepared by a team of researchers led by University of Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley, included an analysis of lower-level uses of force causing minor injuries and found Black people were more likely to be subjected to this force, too.
The statistics released by Toronto police last week cover a broad spectrum of force, drawn from provincial use of force forms — documents that must be filled out by officers when their actions prompt medical attention, when they use a Taser or point or fire their gun.
The reason officers now take down race information on these forms is because they are required to.
In 2019, under Ontario’s Anti-Racism Act, all police forces in the province were mandated to start collecting the officer’s perceptions of a person’s race on use-of-force forms. Toronto police then cross-referenced the data from those forms against their own internal records to provide greater detail about the nature and context of each incident.
“This was not something that the police, out of their goodness, decided to do. This is something that’s mandated,” said Betty, from the Jamaican Canadian Association.
The Toronto police board did go further than required in 2019 when it passed a policy on the collection of race-based data, acting on a recommendation from an anti-racism advisory panel struck in the wake of Loku’s death. Last week’s release of strip search data was a result of that policy, and Toronto police have committed to the release of more data, including on arrests, to determine if there are disparities.
Notisha Massaquoi, who lead the anti-racism committee and helped develop the board’s race-based data collection policy, told the Star the work on race data collection was a way to “honour the legacy of people who’ve been advocating for this for over 30 years.”
But the apology she heard didn’t strike her as meaningful.
“An apology would also come with really clear direction and reparations for how you’re going to repair the situation,” Massaquoi said.
In his comments, Ramer said his apology was only the beginning of change — “we will do all we can to fix this,” he said — and committed to listening. Next week, Toronto police are set to hold the first of a series of town halls for public feedback to the race-based report.
Ramer also outlined a series of steps the force is committed to take to address the race disparities, including beefed-up training and mandatory reviews of body-worn camera footage after every use of force incident.
Betty said he did not want to get embroiled in the “politics” of the apology but instead focus on what happens next. For real change, there must be movement at much higher levels than Toronto police, he said, calling on the police board and the province to be actively involved.
“Apology is one thing. I think the action that follows, or proceeds, it is more important,” Betty said.
Credit belongs to : www.thestar.com