Written by Alex Cosh
Race-based data released by the Toronto Police Service (TPS) Wednesday confirmed the already widely criticized existence of systemic racism inside the force, showing that cops use physical force more frequently against Black people and more violently.
Despite making up just over 10 per cent of the city’s total population, Black people in Toronto were on the receiving end of nearly 40 per cent of all “use of force” incidents carried out by police in 2020, meaning police were 1.6 times more likely to use force against Black people than other groups.
A presentation containing the newly released data notes:
“Differences by race remained in incidents after taking into account weapons, calls for service that result in an enforcement action, and frequency of recent involvement in enforcement actions.”
In other words, no other factor besides race explained why police were more likely to use violent tactics against Black people and other racialized groups.
The data showed police also disproportionately used force against Middle Eastern, South Asian, East Asian and Latino Torontonians.
Disturbingly, police were more likely to point firearms at Black, South Asian and East or Southeast Asian people than white people during use of force incidents. Black people were 1.5 times more likely to have a firearm pointed at them by police, a figure rising to 1.6 and 2 times more likely for East/Southeast Asian and South Asian people respectively.
In use of force incidents, pointing a firearm was the most common tactic used by police against all measured racial groups except white people.
Racial disparities remained even after taking into account incidents in which police “perceived” an individual to be carrying a weapon. Police were 1.5 times more likely to point a weapon at a Black person than a white person in cases where a weapon was “perceived.”
Similarly, disparities also remained after taking into account types of calls for service, which the presentation stated “may influence use of force.”
Police were more likely to use force against Black and Indigenous People than other groups in incidents involving “violent calls for service” and “person in crisis calls for service.”
Police also disproportionately used force against Black, South Asian and Indigenous People during “mental health related” incidents.
Overall, the data showed that despite making up 10.2 per cent of the city’s total population, Black people were on the receiving end of more than 22 per cent of all police enforcement actions.
Indigenous People make up 0.9 per cent of the city’s population, but were on the receiving end of 1.4 per cent of all TPS enforcement actions. Middle Eastern people were the target of 5.5 per cent of enforcement actions, despite making up just 4.4 per cent of the city's total population.
In a statement issued Wednesday, TPS 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. For this, as Chief of Police and on behalf of the Service, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly.”
“Our own analysis of our data from 2020 discloses that there is systemic discrimination in our policing in these areas. That is that there is a disproportionate impact experienced by racialized people and, particularly those from Black communities when there is a use-of-force interaction with the Toronto Police Service.”
Ramer’s apology was promptly rejected by justice advocates. In a statement, the No Policing in Pride Coalition (NPCC) said: “We have not asked the police for anything, including today’s apology. Instead, we continue to demand political change that eliminates the need for the next apology.”
The statement continued:
“Black people in Toronto have lost our lives, our health, and our spirits fighting the violence police are only now beginning to acknowledge. Our bodies and our testimonies are the evidence politicians have refused to honour. Mayor John Tory, who has overseen the carnage during his eight years on the police board, and Toronto City Council, have refused to listen to us. Even the reports that prompted today’s apology come directly from the police, as politicians chase the fantasy that cops can and will hold themselves accountable.”
During a TPS press conference on Wednesday, Beverly Bain from NPCC called Ramer’s apology a “public relations stunt,” adding that it was “insulting to Black people; insulting to Indigenous People; insulting to racialized people.”
“What we have asked you is to stop, to stop brutalizing us, to stop killing us,” Bain continued.
Ahead of Ramer’s apology, the Toronto-based advocacy group Doctors for Defunding Police pointed out: “Many of our police leaders & [Ontario Premier] Doug Ford himself, recently said systemic racism does not exist in Canada.”
In response to questions about the police murder of George Floyd in 2020, Ford claimed that Canada does not have the same "systemic, deep roots" of racism as in the United States.
At around the same time, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said she was “struggling” with the definition of systemic racism, and told the Globe and Mail: "If systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don't have systemic racism."
Lucki later acknowledged that systemic racism does exist inside the RCMP, but suggested this was comparable to “every institution.”