Last October, Newstalk 1010 in Toronto conducted a poll: 6 in 10 (61%) people in Toronto indicated they would be scared if they were “pulled over by a police officer for no apparent reason”.
Women, younger people, and those with the lowest income, were all most likely to report that they would be scared. A similar survey conducted in 2003 only demonstrated 34% of the population felt the same way.
Part of the reason for these feelings are that people in Toronto believe that our police officers don’t get punished for wrongdoing, receive preferred treatment when charged or conducting an infraction, will lie in court or falsify notes to get a conviction, and will discriminate and racially profile people in the city. Whether these perceptions are accurate or not, they directly speak to the public confidence in the justice system, and directly affects the ability of Toronto Police Services to do their jobs.
One of the greatest challenges in addressing these concerns has been clear, hard, information, to evaluate what is and what is not occurring in this city. Earlier this year, I pointed to court actions which had attempted to obtain this information, and how claims of systemic discrimination give rise to constitutional considerations.
Earlier this week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission announced that it had requested information “into practices and activities of the Toronto Police Service between January 1st 2010 and June 30th 2017” using its inquiry powers under section 31 of the Human Rights Code, but had still not obtained it. To ensure compliance, they have gone public with this “Truth Before Trust” inquiry to assess whether these practices are consistent with racial discrimination against Black people,
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.
Part of the reason for this inquiry is that enforcing human rights in the criminal justice system is one of the main strategic priorities identified for the Commission,
The OHRC will enforce human rights and reduce systemic discrimination and inequality experienced by people who are among the most marginalized in our communities by seeking human rights accountability in the criminal justice system.
Within Ontario’s human rights framework, the OHRC has unique powers to effect systemic change. Over the coming five years, we will engage the full range of our functions and powers to address human rights issues within the systems that powerfully affect communities’ experiences of marginalization. We will pursue a particular focus on Ontario’s criminal justice system (including pipelines to criminalization, police, courts, corrections and community release).
Although the commission is not making any forgone conclusions, it will inquire into any disproportionate impact of stop and question, use of force, and arrest and charges on Black persons and communities.
At the press conference announcing the public inquiry, Prof. Jamil Jivani noted that racial profiling has deep inter-generational impact that doesn’t end when you get a university degree. Despite being a lawyer and having education he remained acutely aware of the effect of racial profiling in the city.
Existing legislation and policies already have created the foundation for societal change. But Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane noted that the Toronto Police has still not implemented many of these policies, and that they will be examining the culture, training, policies, procedures and accountability mechanisms that relate to racial profiling and racial discrimination.
According to the inquiry’s terms of reference, the Commission will conduct research, retain experts, consult with stakeholders, and receive information from affected individuals groups. They will also provide an opportunity for Toronto Police Services and the Toronto Police Services Board to respond to any findings and recommendations prior to making the report public.
Mandhane emphasized that it was time for the Toronto Police Services to build trust with the public, because without this trust they could not provide proactive intelligence-based policing. Without this ability, there were profound consequences to the public safety.
For many residents of Toronto, this inquiry will come as a relief after years of feeling that there has been complete inaction or change. The Commission’s power to compel the production of information is unique, and will hopefully provide answers where others have failed to do so.