Jim Rankin and Wendy Gillis, Toronto Star, September 19, 2019
With a unanimous nod Thursday, the Toronto Police Services Board approved a new “historic” policy around the mandated collection of race-based data, a move aimed at improving much-eroded trust in some communities.
It had been a long time coming, and although it doesn’t go as far or as fast as some would like, it sets a standard for Canadian policing, the board was told.
The board approved the much-anticipated policy before a full public gallery, and to applause.
Many in the crowd had been leading the charge to mandate the collection of the data and address bias, including Ontario Human Rights Commission chief commissioner Renu Mandhane and commission staff, John Sewell of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition and Kingsley Gilliam of the Black Action Defense Committee.
Afterward, Notisha Massaquoi, co-chair of the anti-racism advisory panel that shaped the policy, said she was exhausted and happy, and “I don’t think people might understand how much work goes in behind the scenes to get to this place. It was a lot of hours of debate, deliberation and compromises.
“For me personally, as a member of the Black community in Toronto, I wanted to also honour the legacy of people who’ve been advocating for this for over 30 years.”
The panel was formed in the wake of the 2015 fatal police shooting of Andrew Loku, 45, a Black, mentally ill father of five from Sudan.
The panel called on the board to approve the policy and implement phase one — noting race in use-of-force incidents — by January 1, and have the chief embark on a pilot project around people self-identifying race, rather than how it will begin, with officers making that call.
“This is a landmark policy,” Mayor John Tory told reporters after the meeting. “A huge step forward for our police service, and the kind of thing that we expect from our police service.”
After the use-of-force phase, the policy calls for the collection of race-based data in a number of other interactions, including stops, charges and arrests.
The panel’s approved report and policy states that the board and the service “have acknowledged that no institution or organization, including ours, is immune from overt and implicit bias,” read the panel’s report to the board. “While we know that systemic bias and racism is impossible to deny, at the same time, we do not consider it either inevitable or acceptable.”
The committee — which comprises officers, community members, and experts on race and policing — launched a lengthy and comprehensive process to develop the policies, involving extensive consultation of numerous community groups, police and experts in race-based data collection.
Asked if the panel met with resistance during consultations about how — or even why — police would collect race data, both Massaquoi and her fellow co-chair, board member Uppala Chandrasekera, said they hadn’t.
The data, which will be de-identified, is to be independently reviewed by an independent expert and the data and analysis shared publicly on the board’s website. Training is also part of the policy, including “experiential learning” and scenario-based training.
Until this policy, police were required under provincial carding regulations to note the race of people they stopped, questioned and documented, and only those encounters — something Toronto police had already been doing for decades and led to controversy over the racially-skewed outcomes.
Repeated Toronto Star investigations into Toronto police carding and arrests and charge data obtained in freedom of information requests, dating back to 2002 and up to 2014, have shown Black people and to a lesser extent people with brown skin were disproportionately stopped and carded, and Black people in certain circumstances were treated more harshly by police after arrest.
The Star’s analysis also showed that Black young men were disproportionately charged with violent offences.
None of the Star’s findings were a surprise to Toronto’s Black communities, but the data led to an inquiry by the Ontario Human Rights Commission into the impacts of racial profiling and sparked discussions and efforts that continue to today around reducing the disparities and targeting the root causes of crime.
The Human Rights Commission also pushed for police to collect race-based data, and in December released its own findings into Toronto police use-of-force in the commission’s ongoing inquiry into racial profiling by the service.
The Star was able to also look at anonymized officer data and identified officers and units that most disproportionately stopped and carded people of colour, a tool experts say could be used by supervisors to monitor for potential bias in individuals, including implicit bias, a phenomena experts say comes with simply being human.
Deputant Camille Orridge, a senior fellow at the Wellesley Institute, told the board the absence of individual officer data is “problematic” to the community and is a missing accountability component. She also urged the board to hold off for as long as possible on self-identifying race. Asking that question in the context of police interactions is problematic, she said.
Deputant Aina-Nia Grant of the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, disagreed, and said the police should set out immediately to have people self-identify. He also told the board it should be used in performance management of individuals and noted carding was once used in performance reviews.
The Human Rights Commission also called for the data to be used to look at individual officers.
Although the policy does not call for police to look at individual officer data for patterns and for performance purposes, Chief Saunders told reporters “if we do see elements of misconduct, whether it requires a training element, whether it requires a discipline element, we will deal with that.”
Asked if the service would look at an officer’s data if complained about, Saunders said “I would look at the conduct complaint and what is that complaint and we would go through our regular course with respect to what we’re doing and if it ties into the systemic issues then definitely there would be some sort of bridge towards that.”
The policy is not about looking at crime rates in neighbourhoods, by race, which could stigmatize, but it is the starting point to identifying issues, understanding and making change.
Julius Haag of the University of Toronto, speaking on behalf of colleagues Scot Wortley and Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, told the board officer manipulation of races recorded could be a problem, as it has been in other jurisdictions where officers note race.