Race-based data; depends on what you do with it

By Lincoln DePradine

Toronto police soon will be implementing a policy directing officers to collect race-based data in their interaction with the public. In the Black community, there have been both applause and questions on the policy directive that has been approved by the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB).

“I’m glad they’re making it official but then it’s also what they’re going to do about it. That is the most important thing to us,’’ said community activist Louis March, founder of the Zero Gun Violence Movement.

Under the first phase of the policy, which is set to roll out by January, officers will collect race-based data whenever there is an encounter with a civilian in which cops use or display force, such as pulling their guns.

Ken Jeffers and Mark Saunders

For many years, claims of “excessive’’ use of force by police against African-Canadians, illegal “carding’’ and other discriminatory acts against Blacks by police have sparked protests.

The claims also have been the subject several studies and reports. They include a 2018 report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission and another released this past January by Michael H. Tulloch, a Court of Appeal justice.

Carding, Tulloch said, has resulted in “the alienation of entire communities from the police’’, and in a “lack of public trust in, and cooperation with, the police’’.

According to a TPSB press release, the new policy is designed to identify, monitor, and eliminate potential systemic racism.

“This is a pivotal point in the history of the Toronto Police Service,’’ the release said.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, a TPSB member, said the new policy will “allow us to have a greater degree of accountability, but also to identify and root out elements of systemic racism and discrimination — and preserve the dignity of individuals and communities’’.

Veteran activist and City of Toronto employee Ken Jeffers, who is serving a second term on the TPSB, was a participant in many of the protest movements over the years.

He described the new policy as “a testament to the work that a lot of people have done in the past’’.

“We called for this many years ago and we did all kinds of protests not only for race-based data but also on the whole question of systemic racism,’’ Jeffers recalled. “People have sacrificed a lot. Now, we’re seeing recognition and acknowledgement, which means that we were telling the truth and we wanted to be set free by that truth.’’

In Jeffers’s words, “instead of having anecdotes now – people talking about their experiences – we can actually monitor the race data and look at the impact it is having, and will have, on the community. All of the naysayers and doubters, who talk about we sometimes exaggerate and so forth, will now understand that this is reality.’’

March doesn’t believe the race-based information will uncover anything new.

“There’s nothing that the race-based data will tell them that they already do not know. Collecting the data validates what has been going on for years,’’ he said.

Among March’s concerns are issues around transparency and accountability of the data collected.

“The data needs to be transparent; it needs be to be accessible to the public and it must be trusted data. And then, it’s going to tell them they need retraining and also political leadership commitment to taking action,’’ he said. “I don’t want it to be in the hands of the individual officer on the street. There must be a top-down commitment to doing something about it.’’

Once collection of the data begins, “you have to follow it through in every aspect of policing’’, Jeffers said.

“The community has to step up and ensure that the commitment to race-based data, and all its implications on our community, should be tracked and commented on,’’ Jeffers added. “Come to the meetings and go on the website. We have to do this because we missed out on a number of commitments that were made by the board by not doing the homework that we should.’’

Meanwhile, Toronto police also have announced that they plan to include reporting on strip searches.