Activists denounce Toronto Police Chief’s apology over discrimination 

June 18, 2022 - 17:41

Advocates have dismissed an apology from Canada’s Toronto Police Chief after data showed Black, Indigenous, and other minority groups are disproportionately affected by use of force and strip searches in the Canadian city.

Activists and community leaders are demanding an immediate change in policing dismissing the apology as not enough. Toronto police say they will implement some changes but critics say they have heard promises of reforms before as well.

Notisha Massaquoi, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough told local media "this is not an aspirational goal. This is something that we are demanding as members of the Black community in Toronto,"

Massaquoi is reported to have spent three years leading the process to develop the force's race-based data collection policy and added "the data tells us exactly what we already knew as Black people … that a) we are over-policed [and] b) that we are disproportionately experiencing harm when engaging with the police,"

The comment reflects the wider mood on social media; for many minority groups in the Canadian city, the data only reinforces what has already been known for decades with many calling for concrete action to address the racist approach.

According to analysis of racial data released by Toronto Police, Black people are 2.2 times more likely to have an interaction with police officers and are 1.6 times more likely to have force used against them during the interaction.

The police data also shows people from West Asia, Latino, Asian and indigenous communities have faced disproportionate use-of-force and strip searches.

Revealing the never-before-seen statistics following many years of criticism, Toronto Police Chief James Ramer said "as an organization, we have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and unbiased policing, and for this, as chief of police and on behalf of the service, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly.”

Neil Price, the executive director of the non-profit consultancy Logical Outcomes also spoke out, telling local media it's unsurprising that a police apology wouldn't be met with open arms from members of the communities affected.

"The reason why you're hearing this caution, this frustration, and this lack of interest quite frankly… is because the history is so dreadful, and we know that while we are looking at data and talking about apologies, people are dying," he said.

The police data has been drawn from records of 949 use of force incidents and 7,114 strip searches over the course of 2020.

Black Canadians were the most likely to disproportionately have force used against them. This is despite Black people making up around ten percent of the city's population that year but faced 22.6 percent of police enforcement, which also included arrests, provincial offenses tickets, cautions, and diversions.

Similarly, Black, Latino, East/Southeast Asian, and West Asian people were overrepresented by factors of 1.6 times, 1.5 times, 1.2 times, and 1.2 times, respectively, when it came to use of force.

Police also used more force against non-white groups in comparison to white people, especially when it came to officers drawing their firearms. 

In a statement, Moya Teklu the executive director of the Black Legal Action Centre said the police report simply confirms what Black people have known for decades.

"The police continue to fail to fulfill their purported mandate. They continue to fail to serve and protect Black people. And yet, year after year, all levels of government continue to pour money into police services," Teklu said. "They do this instead of funding Black communities."

"The solution is not to provide the police with more money for body scanners, or training," she said.

"It is to de-task the police and to redirect funding into those services that will actually protect and serve and increase the public safety of Black people."

Sam Tecle, an assistant professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, told Canadian news that given the statistics, it's clear Toronto police isn't providing a service, rather, it is a "force" in the lives of racialized groups.

He also says the police apology carries no weight saying that these communities have gotten similar statements at different points over the last 40 years.

"We cannot accept this apology as even a modicum of any kind of reform… I think what we can try is that we place external pressure on policing, and do not place faith that they will change and reform themselves."

After Ramer's apology, author and activist Desmond Cole told reporters that while the police chief said the force won't tolerate overt acts of racism, that still leaves room for "the implicit, quiet, subtle, hard-to-prove kind that takes years of data and reporting and study to even acknowledge.

"But while an apology is a welcome first step, it is just noise unless it is backed by sustained, concrete, and systematic actions to dismantle the police service's failed strategies and institute new approaches free from embedded racism," he added.

Quite astonishingly, following the apology, fresh revelations hit the police force after a survey among Toronto police officers found 28 percent of female police respondents said they experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

Participants also expressed concern that a culture of protection within senior leadership was exacerbated by a lack of diversity.

“Senior leadership was described as ‘white and male-dominated,’ with leaders promoting others who ‘look like them’, reinforcing these same issues.”

This comes as a new report suggests that while there was widespread awareness of the rise in hate crimes against people of Asian descent, little was known about how COVID-19 affected their sense of safety and belonging in their communities, particularly in Canada.

A team at Dalhousie University, Halifax found that many Asian Canadians experienced outright racism or felt unsafe and unsettled during the pandemic because of the unexpected and unpredictable nature of discrimination, leaving many stressed and exhausted.

"I was disappointed but unsurprised by what we found," says Josh Ng-Kamstra, a trauma surgeon, intensivist, and health services researcher in the School of Health Administration.

"The study was conceived at a time when the racist rhetoric about the virus coming from U.S. political leadership was saturating the Canadian news cycle. Unfortunately, we discovered that such messages found resonance in Canada. Every single one of our participants witnessed or directly experienced discrimination during the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, research conducted by the Sharing Halal campaign, which hopes to educate and address Islamophobia in the country has revealed one in four Canadians “do not trust people belonging to the Muslim faith group,”

Sarah Ketty spearheads Sharing Halal, and she hopes a conversation on Islamophobia will give Muslim Canadians a chance to address the discrimination they have faced.

“These findings identify a significant opportunity to enhance understanding and compassion for the Muslim community in Canada,” Ketty says.

Hasan Alam is the community liaison for the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline and says although the survey is disheartening, he is not surprised.

“Well, I think it stems from Canada’s history of white supremacy, it’s not just the Muslim community that faces racism in the form of Islamophobia historically, communities of color have always faced prejudice and discrimination in Canada, starting with the Indigenous stewards of these lands right from the very creation of Canada,” Asam said.

Canada has been rocked by a series of racial scandals recently that have alarmed the international community. The discovery of mass graves for indigenous children who were tortured to death in what a national commission said amounted to the cultural genocide of 150,000 native children has made the most disturbing headline around the world.

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