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Review finds people of colour faced disproportionate levels of force by Toronto police

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People of colour were 1.2 to 1.6 times more likely to face violence when interacting with Toronto police in 2020, and Black residents were more likely to have a police officer point a firearm at them when they appeared to be unarmed than white people, new data suggests.

The review of more than 900 use of force incidents involving Toronto police in 2020 was released Wednesday, prompting Chief James Ramer to issue a public apology for what he said amounted to “systematic discrimination.”

“As challenging as it for me as chief and for members of our command and service to come to terms with what our data tells us, I know that it will be even more difficult for those from Toronto’s Black communities who have been telling us for many years of their experiences,” Ramer said during a press conference. “I want our communities to know I am listening.”

The data found that when involved in an “enforcement action” such as an arrest or issuing a serious provincial offences ticket, not only were people of colour overrepresented, the level of force police deployed against them tended to be more severe.

“When force was used, Black people were over-represented in higher types of force used,” police write in the review of 2020 incidents.

The review found 39 per cent of people Toronto police used force against in 2020 were Black.

In that same year, only 24 per cent of people Toronto police interacted with were Black, meaning Black residents were 2.2 times as likely to be subjected to enforcement actions.

Looking specifically at the 371 times that year where officers pointed handguns or rifles at people, the report found Black people were 2.3 times more likely than white people to have firearms “pointed where no weapons were perceived” by an officer to be on their person. Officials, however, have cautioned that the sample size for that statistic was small as only 22 of the 149 use of force incidents where weapons were not perceived involved the pointing of a firearm at a suspect in 2020. Due to the small sample size data was only made available for Black people and white people.

Meanwhile, white people were 1.4 times more likely to have less-than lethal force such as physical contact, a bean-bag shotgun, baton or Taser used against them by police when they were thought to be in possession of weapons.

READ MORE: Toronto police's race-based data on use of force, strip searches highlighted

Compared to white residents, Black residents were 1.5 times more likely to have a police firearm pointed at them during an enforcement action, while East/Southeast Asian people were 1.6 times more likely and South Asian people were two times more likely to see the barrel of a police firearm.

The report showed that other racialized groups were also overrepresented in many statistics when it came to the use of force. Latino people were overrepresented in use of force incidents by a factor of 1.5 while Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian people were overrepresented by a factor of 1.2. Indigenous people were overrepresented in enforcement actions by a factor of 1.5 but were slightly underrepresented in the use of force statistics overall. However, when it came to calls for a person in crisis Indigenous people were 1.4 times more likely than to face force than their share of the population would suggest.

For his part, Toronto Police Chief James Ramer said the data confirmed what racialized communities have said for decades, and police have not done enough to correct those injustices.

"For this, as Chief of Police, and on behalf of the Service, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly. The release of this data will cause pain for many. Your concerns have deep roots that go beyond the release of today’s report. We must improve; we will do better," he said.

Toronto Police Chief James Ramer gathers his papers following a news conference at Toronto Police Headquarters, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto police officers fired guns in four incidents throughout 2020, killing two people.

“We have a race problem within the TPS and it is disproportionately impacting racialized communities,” Black Lives Matter Toronto founder Syrus Marcus Ware told CP24.

“It’s so essential to capture this data, so that we can confirm the experiences of community members have been saying their experience with police has been.”

The findings of the review are so scathing an internal memo sent to Toronto police officers and obtained by CP24 warned them the next few weeks will be “difficult” and “challenging” for them as the public reacts to the disproportionate nature in which force was used against racialized residents of the city.

In response to the findings, the Toronto police are working on 38 separate measures to reduce the gap between the number of interactions police have with each racialized community in Toronto and the disproportionate amount of force used against most of them.

They include new equity and inclusion training for new recruits, an audit of the existing police college curriculum, a review of the existing use of force procedure, the public release of use of force data on an ongoing basis and racial bias and equity training for all ranks of the service.

Ramer directly addressed officers after tabling the data, saying this was about the systemic discrimination as a whole, and not a condemnation of individual officer conduct.

“This is an organizational shortcoming and it does not speak to your conduct as police officers and civilian members – but each of you should find this information uncomfortable,” he said.

It was a notion that Beverly Bain of the No Pride in Policing Coalition took issue with.

“You talk about it being a hurtful painful process for your police officers – but this is insulting to Black people, this is insulting to Indigenous people, and this is insulting to racialized people, to the homeless, to those of us who are queer,” she told Ramer.

“We have asked for the preservation of our lives, but what we’ve gotten instead is much more police. Yes your police officers are responsible for their racism,” she said. “You make it seem as though it’s a structure that is somehow a separate entity from what is happening on the ground."

"It is not a separate entity; you’re culpable. you’re implicated.”

EXTENDED COVERAGE: Toronto Police Service braces members for 'difficult' week ahead of report on race-based data collection, memo shows

After being interrupted at least twice, she looked at Ramer and rejected his apology.

“Chief Ramer, we do not accept your apology.”

The review of 2020 interactions looked at 949 use of force incidents involving 1,224 people where physical force was used by an officer that resulted in a member of the public needing medical attention, a firearm or Taser was drawn, or a baton, pepper spray or a police animal made contact with a person.

Beverly Bain from "No Pride in Policing Coalition" addresses Chief James Ramer of the Toronto Police Service following an apology at a press conference releasing race-based data, at police headquarters in Toronto on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Overall, Black people were over-represented in use of force incidents compared to their share of total enforcement actions by a factor of 1.6. East/Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern people were both overrepresented by a factor of 1.2, while Latino people were overrepresented in use of force incidents by a factor of 1.5.

Even when adjusting for the relative demographic makeup of different neighbourhoods of the city, the review found people of colour faced more police violence, even in places where they made up smaller shares of the population.

“Divisions with the highest over-representations in use of force incidents involving Black, South Asian, Latino, Southeast Asian people, had lower proportions of that group in the local population,” the authors wrote.

Strip searches were also found to be used in a manner that disproportionately targets racialized people.

The review found that Indigenous people were searched 1.3 times more frequently than their presence in all arrests would suggest.

It also found that Black and white people were searched 1.1 times more frequently than their presence in all arrests would suggest.

The requirement to collect the race of individuals police used force against was part of reforms passed by the Wynne government in 2017 that also effectively outlawed the practice of carding in the province.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said Wednesday he was confident the reforms announced already would help reduce systemic discrimination by police in the city.

"On behalf of the police service, Chief Ramer has made a public apology to racialized communities and committed the Service to doing better in providing unbiased policing," he said. "I support the Chief and the entire Service really delivering on this apology with meaningful action by ensuring the service continues the reforms underway to provide unbiased policing."

Ramer characterized the service’s next steps as a “continuous strategy of improvement,” and shied away from efforts by reporters to take more direct steps to publicize individual incidents of racist conduct perpetrated by his officers.

He said the structural, systemic approach would show results, while more individual public scrutiny beyond what is already in place with the service’s professional standards branch might lead to officers declining to answer specific calls for service where they may face added criticism.

“If we start creating an environment where officers are going to go ‘well this is just going to mean another point against me because I am answering this call and engaging this person,’ that’s not a good thing for anyone, so I think we have to rely on our other means of professional standards operations to investigate that.”

Ramer also took time to state that the service would continue to require budget increases in the future, irrespective of reforms aimed at ending systemic discrimination, simply to keep up with demands for service in a growing city.

It was a suggestion Black Lives Matter's Ware questioned giving the scathing nature of the report.

"I can’t think of any other job where you’d get a report that would come out like this, that was as damning, where the solution would be to give them more money to continue to do the harm."

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