Toronto police have finally admitted to what the city’s Black residents and activists have been saying for a long time: The way they police is rife with systemic racism.
In a press conference Wednesday, Police Chief James Ramer apologized for what newly-released data shows: that Black, Indigenous, and other racialized Torontonians are subjected to police use-of-force and strip searches significantly more often than their white counterparts, with no explanation.
“On behalf of the police, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly,” Ramer said.
“As challenging as it is 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. And I want our communities to know I am listening.”
The Toronto Police Service’s analysis of 2020 data looked at 949 use-of-force incidents and 7,114 strip searches. It showed that when it comes to enforcement, Black people were overrepresented by 2.2 times compared to their share of the population, followed by Indigenous people at 1.6 times; of those involved in a police interaction, Black people were 1.6 times more likely to experience use-of-force.
The report found that Black, East/Southeast Asian people, and South Asian people were more likely to have an officer point a gun at them by a factor of 1.5 times, 1.6 times, and 2 times, respectively. Officers were 2.3 times more likely to point a gun at a Black person than a white person even when they didn’t think the person was armed.
Indigenous people were the most overrepresented in strip searches, by a factor of 1.3 compared to how often they were arrested. A 2019 report from police watchdog the Office of the Independent Police Review Director found that Toronto police conducted far too many strip searches—a subsequent policy change significantly cut down how often the force employs strip searches.
Ramer said Toronto police have “never been more committed to progressive and inclusive change,” and pointed to 38 action items including “listening and understanding,” reviewing video of all use-of-force incidents, revised training, and continuing to publish data online.
However, Ramer was called out at the press conference by Beverly Bain, a member of the No Pride in Policing Coalition and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
“The Black community never asked for an apology,” she said, adding she and others have been telling police this has been happening for decades. “What we have asked for you to do is to stop, to stop brutalizing us, to stop killing us.”
She said she has been calling for defunding of the police and a reallocation of those funds into community housing and resources that don’t involve cops.
“None of that has happened. What have we witnessed? An escalation in policing budget.”
She also took issue with Ramer’s repeated comments that the reports are about systemic racism and “not of individual acts of racism.”
“Your police officers are responsible for their racism,” she said. “They’re the ones who put our lives at risk.”
Ramer said the data from the report had to be anonymized.
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