By Gerald V. Paul
As the search continues for a new police chief, current Chief Bill Blair was caught between a rock and a hard place on the question of racial profiling and carding last Thursday at Police Headquarters.
“The public is ill-served by less than full examination of what is actually happening in 31 Division,” a livid Blair replied as the recent Community Assessment of Police Practices survey of residents in 31Division was officially released at the Toronto Police Services Board meeting.
The report revealed that the majority of residents sampled in the Jane-Finch area who were stopped by police were carded or racially profiled.
Blair questioned the survey methodology and lashed out at board Chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee who confirmed the survey results.
Blair said, “I’m very concerned quite frankly, quite frankly, with some of the reckless comments and conclusions reached by certain individuals with respect to the information to the board, in the absence of facts.”
Blair called the report one of advocacy.
But Neil Price, MA, executive director of Logical Outcomes, responsible for the survey, said their work speaks for itself. “The status quo with respect to policing in 31 Division is unacceptable by any measure,” according to the report.
Residents in the Jane and Finch area – where the survey was conducted – were planning to hold a press conference Wednesday night to make their views known on the issue.
In advance of that press conference, Sabrina Butterfly GoPaul, of Guyana heritage, told The Camera, “While the findings of the Community Assessment of Police Practices study have made news headlines throughout the GTA, they confirm what area residents know only too well: despite a revised carding policy designed to reign in police abuses, racially biased carding continues to be widespread in the Jane and Finch community.”
She stressed that “the findings of this most recent report are unequivocal: the policy is ignored and racially discriminatory practices continue to characterize the encounters many community members have with police.”
GoPaul, with Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty, demanded an end to targeted policing in the community. She said they will be joined at the press conference by Price, the author of the survey.
Price told The Camera that in the survey of 404 people in the Jane and Finch area, a majority of respondents said officers were not following the board’s new “carding” policy, which requires police to have a valid public safety reason for stopping individuals and collecting their information, and prohibits prolonging such encounters to try to gather information that would justify formal questioning.
Prominent community professor, lawyer and advocate Peter Rosenthal noted the PACER Report prepared by Toronto Police Service said “the victims of those stops were not suspected of any criminal activity, nor were they thought to have information about any specific crime. Even by the end of the interrogation, in those incidents there was no reason to suspect that those stopped had done anything wrong.”
According to Rosenthal, the 300,000 people documented in PACER as being stopped were just innocent people going about their lawful business when their lives were interrupted by police. He added, “The victims of carding are disproportionately Black people.”
In a previous submission to the board he stressed: “I strongly urge that you immediately direct the police to eliminate carding and go back to stopping only those who are suspected of being involved in or having information about a crime.” He called for a friendly police presence instead.
Meanwhile, the community is calling for accountability when it comes to the replacement of Blair. There is a call for the new chief to be held personally accountable to the board for the full range of police activities.