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Board tells Toronto police to review if it can investigate individuals behind ‘systemic’ discrimination

The Toronto Police Service has been directed by its civilian police board to review whether its race-based data can be used to identify “specific instances” of discriminatory policing — including at the officer level.

Mayor John Tory told the board Wednesday that the city’s police force needs to address large cultural and systemic issues, but said it is “impossible to meet that big challenge without addressing individual behaviour and finding ways to try to do that.”

A major Toronto police report released last week — which showed Black and racialized people are subjected to greater use of force and strip-searching by officers — “clearly tells us we have a problem,” said Tory, who sits on the police board.

“But the nature of the anonymized data is such that you can’t drill down and determine where the problem lies — through the structure of the police service … right down to the level of the individual,” he said.

At its first in-person meeting since COVID-19 on Wednesday, the board passed a series of motions aimed at reviewing how Toronto police collect and use race-based data — including the possible expansion of data analysis to include information at the police division or officer level.

In a motion brought forward by Ainsworth Morgan, the board’s only Black member, the board called for Toronto police chief James Ramer to review whether its race-based data collection process can be changed to increase the ability “to identify, investigate and address specific instances of potential inequitable policing.”

“In terms of identifying specific divisions or individual officers, the intent is certainly to look at whether and how this can be done, respecting applicable law that creates the framework in which this is done,” said Ryan Teschner, executive director of the Toronto police board, in an email.

After receiving a report from Ramer, due later this year, the board will then review its own 2019 race-based data collection policy, which says the data should not be used “for performance management or to identify individual Service Members.”

The board meeting came one week after Ramer issued an apology to the city’s Black and racialized citizens for “systemic discrimination” laid bare in the service’s own analysis. According to the police data, Black residents were subject to officer force at rates five times higher than white ones.

But many Black Torontonians have pushed back against Ramer’s apology and criticized the fact that the report is anonymized, meaning it doesn’t identify if any specific officers are behind the racial disparity.

Speaking to reporters last week, Ramer said that the law requires the data to be anonymized “as is required by the Anti-Racism Act and the privacy commission as well.”

In a statement Tuesday evening, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) said it had, in fact, not stated that, saying instead that the provincial Anti-Racism Act and municipal privacy laws are designed to protect personal information “rather than information that identifies an individual in a business, professional or official capacity.”

Ramer acknowledged the clarification Wednesday, but said the service’s current data analysis was built to comply with the Toronto police race-based data collection policy — which restricts the use of officer-level information — “and thus, it simply cannot be used for individual performance issues.”

Wednesday’s meeting heard from multiple members of the city’s Black and racialized communities, many expressing anger over the report’s findings and resignation over the lack of action during the decades when police were told they had a race problem.

“I find myself struggling to offer further advice to the service because all that needs to be said has been said,” said community member Dave D’Oyen.

In an impassioned deputation, D’Oyen said that in other landmark apologies given for historic wrongs — including when former Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for residential schools — those who’d been victimized were present. Last week, it was members of the media present; “the affected communities were not invited.”

Adding insult to injury, he said, Torontonians did not get to thoroughly review the report before the apology.

“Just a little over two years since the murder of George Floyd — which afforded anti-Black racism the attention it so rightly deserves — this is the level of respect, or dare I say disrespect, that Black folks receive,” D’Oyen said.

Ramer said Wednesday that the feedback in the last week has been “extremely valuable” and said the force remains committed to action and “getting it right.”

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis


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