Truth before trust: Launch of public interest inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination by the Toronto Police Service
November 30, 2017 | Remarks by OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane
I am here today to speak to all Ontarians about an issue that is undermining public trust in law enforcement — namely racial profiling and racial discrimination.
Despite the immense pain and suffering it has caused, discrimination in policing has been allowed to continue for decades.
It is simply unacceptable that people who were racially profiled in their youth have to warn their grandchildren about it.
Today, you will hear first-hand accounts of racial profiling, and learn about the Commission’s bold next steps to address it.
About racial profiling
Systemic discrimination in policing plays a key role in the pipeline to criminalization.
It is part of the reason that Black people are over-represented at every stage of the criminal justice system.
For over four decades, we have seen incidents, studies, reports, recommendations, uprisings, and even deaths related to the over-policing of Toronto’s Black community.
As far back as the 1970s, racialized communities were raising concerns about racial profiling.
In 1988, Lester Donaldson and Michael Wade Lawson died at the hands of police.
In 1992, hundreds of people took to Yonge Street to protest the shooting death of Raymond Lawrence by Peel Police.
In 2009, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found that Ronald Phipps was racially profiled by Toronto Police while delivering the mail.
In 2011, Mutaz Elmardy was stopped, punched in the face and searched by two Toronto Police officers.
The Divisional Court later awarded Mr. Elmardy $80,000 dollars in damages.
In November 2011, in the Neptune 4 incident, two Toronto police officers violently arrested four Black teens at gunpoint while they were walking to a tutoring session on Toronto Community Housing property.
These are just a few of the many incidents that continue to foster a deep distrust of police.
Over the years, the Black community has organized and advocated for racial justice.
From the Black Action Defence Committee to Black Lives Matter, there is a rich history of the community searching for and demanding accountability.
While today’s leaders celebrate diversity and multiculturalism, racial discrimination has been part of the lived experience of newcomers to Canada since their arrival.
This is the underbelly of the multiculturalism we celebrate.
And this is the lived reality of many people in our community today.
Announcing the inquiry
The time for talk is in the past.
That is why the Ontario Human Rights Commission has launched a public interest inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination by the Toronto Police Service.
In the past, the Commission brought the lived experience of community members into focus and showed the harmful impact of racial profiling on individuals and communities.
This should have been enough…but it wasn’t.
These stories were often dismissed as anecdotal or the result of a “few bad apples.”
That’s why this inquiry is markedly different from anything we have been done before.
We will obtain and analyze quantitative data to pinpoint where racial disparities exist.
We will marry that data with the lived experience of individuals.
An investigation of this scope and scale is unprecedented in Ontario.
Using our inquiry powers under section 31 of the Human Rights Code, we have called for the Toronto Police Service, the Toronto Police Services Board and the Special Investigations Unit to provide us with a wide range of data.
If we obtain this data, we will use it to propose targeted solutions that will create greater accountability for human rights and make our communities safer.
We call on the Toronto Police Service to provide the Commission with the information we have requested.
We know, and the community knows, that racial profiling is real.
This inquiry isn’t about establishing whether the community’s concerns are founded ….We know they are.
This inquiry is about determining the specific interactions between police and civilians that are of concern.
The Commission is inquiring into practices and activities of the Toronto Police Service between January 1st 2010 and June 30th 2017.
We will assess whether these practices are consistent with racial discrimination against Black people.
We will inquire into:
- Stop and question practices
- Use of force incidents
- Arrests, charges, and conditions of release for various offences, such as:
- Simple drug possession
- Obstructing or assaulting a police officer
- Causing a disturbance
- Or failing to comply with a bail condition
- And we will analyze all interactions with police that result in serious injury or death.
We will also examine the Toronto Police Service and Toronto Police Services Board’s culture, training, policies, procedures and accountability mechanisms relating to racial profiling and racial discrimination.
We will look at whether the Service and the Board have developed systems to analyze whether particular police practices have a disproportionate impact on racialized people.
And we will inquire into how the Service and the Board respond when Courts or Tribunals find that officers have engaged in racial discrimination.
We will also:
- Conduct social science research
- Identify best practices from other jurisdictions,
- Retain experts,
- And consult with key stakeholders, including community and advocacy groups.
Our Inquiry is meant to take the pressure off individuals who often do not come forward due to fear of reprisal or a deep sense of hopelessness.
But we certainly want and need to hear from affected individuals.
People with information related to our inquiry can contact us by email or phone.
And people who want information about their legal rights can contact the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
And we will, of course, give the Service and the Board the opportunity to respond to our findings prior to making them public.
Mistrust of police – involves the whole community
Mistrust of police is not a new phenomenon – but it’s a growing one.
A Newstalk 1010 poll from September found that 6 in 10 Torontonians said they would “be scared” if they were pulled over by police for no apparent reason.
That’s almost double the number who felt this way back in 2003.
And half of respondents felt that police officers rarely or never get punished for wrongdoing, whether it is on or off the job.
Clearly, lack of trust in Toronto Police extends far beyond the Black community.
This is deeply troubling because trust in law enforcement is essential.
Without trust, police cannot provide proactive, intelligence-based policing, and this has profound consequences for public safety.
It’s time for the Toronto Police Service to build trust.
Call to action
The Toronto Police Services Board and the Special Investigations Unit have both responded to our request for information – but after five months, we are still waiting for the Toronto Police Service to meet its legal obligations.
The Board and the Commission have a shared interest in accountability for human rights, and we trust that the Board will make sure that the Service complies with its legal obligations to provide the requested data.
Government is leading change, but police have to follow
The provincial government recently created an Anti-Racism Directorate, and proposed legislative changes to policing and police oversight.
Ontario is listening and responding to community concerns.
It has proposed a framework for non-discriminatory policing that provides the foundation for positive change.
But these legislative changes will only be effective if police services embed and reflect this modern vision of policing in their everyday operations.
The community has waited for more than 40 years to see progress towards eliminating racial profiling.
We cannot afford to wait any longer.
We have already seen generation after generation of Black Canadians have their lives irreparably damaged by racial profiling.
We owe a different future to our children.
With concrete action, police can build public trust and ensure that policing methods reinforce, rather than undermine, community safety.
We call on the Toronto Police Service provide the Commission with the information we have requested.
Ultimately … there is no trust without truth.
— Chief Commissioner, Renu Mandhane