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Moya Teklu, executive director of the Black Legal Action Centre

Legal associations call for ‘concrete action,’ ‘access to justice’ for victims of police misconduct

Monday, June 20, 2022 @ 9:10 AM | By Amanda Jerome

Legal associations are emphasizing the need for “concrete action” and calling on the government to ensure “access to justice” for victims of police misconduct after a Toronto Police Service’s (TPS) report showed “Black, Indigenous, and racialized people are over-represented in both use-of-force incidents as well as in strip searches.”

Moya Teklu, the executive director of the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC), said that the TPS data, “like the data released by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 2020 and 2018, or the data released by the Toronto Star in 2012, or the numerous studies released before that,” confirms “what Black people have known for decades.”

“The police target Black people for arrest, for detention, for strip searches, for assault,” she said in a statement.

Moya Teklu, Black Legal Action Centre

Moya Teklu, Black Legal Action Centre

Teklu also noted that the data released by TPS “raises a number of questions.”

“What will governments do to make the victims of continued police misconduct whole? How will they remedy their continued trauma, degradation, and humiliation? How will they ensure that they have true access to justice?” she asked.

“The police continue to fail to fulfil 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. They do this instead of funding Black communities. The solution is not to provide the police with more money for body scanners, or training. 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. The police have shown that they are not up to the task,” she added.

“We are still working our way through the reports, but even a cursory read paints a deeply concerning picture of the state of policing,” said Abby Deshman, director of criminal justice for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), noting that the “picture is disturbing — but it is not a surprise.”

Abby Deshman, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Abby Deshman, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

“Impacted communities have been sharing their experiences of discrimination, harassment, and trauma at the hands of police and the criminal justice system for decades,” she added.

Deshman also noted that there has been “data clearly evidencing systemic racism for years,” and pointed to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s work in 2018 which documented “the systemic racism in Toronto policing, reporting that although Black people made up 8.9 per cent of Toronto’s population, they accounted over a third of police shootings, 61.5 per cent of police use of force cases that resulted in civilian death, and 70 per cent of police shootings that resulted in civilian death.”

Deshman stressed that TPS “publishing this data is essential,” but “it is not enough.”

“What communities are rightly demanding is concrete action that will lead to real change for individuals, families and communities,” she added.

“Police need to step back and make room for social service supports and civilian led crisis interventions. We need to have a conversation about why all 911 calls go to the police by default and how we can change that. We need to continue the broader conversations about better ways — outside the criminal justice system — to achieve community safety. And we need government at all levels to listen and take action, turning those conversations into a reality,” she explained.

The “Race & Identity Based Data Collection Strategy: Understanding Use of Force & Strip Searches in 2020” report was released on June 15.

Under the use of force benchmarks, the report noted that Black people were “2.2x over-represented in enforcement actions compared to their presence in Toronto,” while Indigenous people were 1.6x over represented and Middle-Eastern people were 1.3x over represented.

“There were differences by race in use of force incidents showing distinct patterns for different race groups. Black, East/Southeast Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latino people were overrepresented in reported use of force incidents compared to their presence in the enforcement action population,” the report explained.

The report also noted that the “majority (82.5 per cent) of incidents associated to use of force incidents involved men. Five per cent of use of force incidents involved women and 12.5 per cent of incidents involved men and women.”

“Reported Use of Force incidents that involved men were more likely to also involve Black, Middle-Eastern, South Asian, or multiple race groups than those that involved only women,” the report added.

The report also found that there were “differences in highest type of force used by race.” The highest level of force being a firearm pointed.

“Compared to White people,” the report emphasized, “incidents with firearms pointed as the highest level of force were: 1.5x more likely to involve Black people, 1.6x more likely to involve East/Southeast Asian people, [and] 2x more likely to involve South Asian people.”

With respect to strip search results, the report found that Indigenous people were 1.3x “over-represented in strip searches compared to their presence in all arrests,” while Black people were 1.1x over-represented.

The report also looked at the “relationship between arrests, booked persons, and strip searches; including using booked persons as a benchmark for strip searches.” The report found that “once booked, White and Black people were 10 per cent more likely to be strip searched, while Indigenous people were 20 per cent more likely to be strip searched.”

The TPS has “identified 38 actions to address the outcomes in Use of Force and Strip Searches addressed this report,” including: “develop and implement mandatory member training on Anti-Black racism and the Indigenous experience;” “hire specialized equity and inclusion instructors to develop and lead training, including enhancement for [the] new recruit program;” “develop and implement anti-bias workshops for senior leaders within the service;” and “implement mandatory specialized training for communications operators on equity and implicit bias.”

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, the special adviser on anti-black racism for the CCLA, said “some may find these findings shocking, but this is absolutely not news.”

“Communities have been speaking out for decades,” he added in a statement, noting that “this year marks the 20-year anniversary of the Toronto Star’s first race and crime series.”

“Throughout this time the police have continued to paint community concern around these issues as anecdotal while actively suppressing the very data that they released today. And although they have now been forced to release this information, it still only provides a small window into the ways that Black and other racialized communities are disproportionately impacted by police actions,” he explained, stressing that the “police have the ability to provide data disaggregated by race across a wide range of policing interactions and outcomes — but they don’t.”

“Their current race-based data strategy is inadequate. It needs to be vastly expanded and expedited. It is time to stop giving the police a pass, and demand that they start acting in the interests of the communities they claim to serve,” he concluded.

Upon release of the report, Chief of Police James Ramer said, “the results have confirmed what, for many decades, racialized communities — particularly the Black and Indigenous communities — have been telling us; that they are disproportionately overpoliced. This data demonstrates the unfortunate realities of those experiences. As an organization, we have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and unbiased policing.”

“For this, as chief of police, and on behalf of the Service, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly,” he added in a statement, noting that the “release of this data will cause pain for many” and those “concerns have deep roots that go beyond” the release of the report.

“We must improve; we will do better,” he said.

“As difficult as these findings are, we recognize that this is some of the most important work we have ever done. Getting to this point with our data has been challenging, but we are committed to using the 2020 findings as a baseline to build upon actions that have already begun and will continue in the years ahead,” Ramer explained, noting that the TPS “will continue to listen, engage and act, all with the goal of propelling us forward in our ultimate goal of providing fair and equitable policing to all.”

On June 16, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) released a statement noting that the TPS had “acknowledged, based on its race-based data collection on use of force and strip searches, that it continues to disproportionately use force and other enforcement actions against Black communities, among others.”

“The Toronto Police Service’s own analysis confirms the disproportionate use of force and enforcement actions against Black people that have also been identified by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. This is a positive step,” the statement added.

“Chief Ramer’s acknowledgement confirmed what Black communities have said for decades: that Black communities are disproportionately subject to use of force and other enforcement actions. For Black communities, the real test will now be the extent that discriminatory policing is demonstrably reduced or eliminated,” the statement added, noting that the OHRC is currently “working on the final report of its public inquiry into anti-Black racism by the Toronto Police Service.”

“Our final report, which is forthcoming, will make relevant findings, as well as recommendations for change,” the statement explained, also noting that the OHRC has “indicated its willingness to work in collaboration with the Toronto Police Services Board and the Toronto Police Service to effect real change.”

“Chief Ramer stated that the Service and the Board have committed themselves to work with the OHRC to make needed changes. This, too, is a positive step,” the statement added.

According to the statement, the OHRC “provides essential human rights expertise to assist in identifying what has to be done by the police, and when commenting on (and where necessary, improving upon) the calls to action already developed by the police.”

“Our report will address issues that were raised during the questions to chief Ramer yesterday: ensuring true and transparent accountability for discriminatory policing, including at the individual officer level; effectively measuring the impact of recommendations on policing performance; and addressing both systemic racism and individual acts of racism that do not exist in isolation but co-exist and overlap,” the statement added.

The statement also noted that another “important acknowledgement made by the police, based on its analysis, is a fact also well known to Black communities: even accounting for any differences in levels of police interactions across racial groups, Black community members are still disproportionately the victims of use of force.”

“The OHRC looks forward to its continuing, active participation in ensuring that racial discrimination in policing against Black people is rooted out,” the statement concluded.

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