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Toronto Cops Ganged Up on a Black Journalist Who Accused Them of Racial Profiling

When it comes to race, the police have nothing to be smug about.
Manisha Krishnan
Toronto, CA
March 2, 2018, 8:15pm
CTV's Marci Ien and Toronto police officer Ryan Willmer. Photos via Facebook/Twitter 

If you happened to miss senior Toronto cops’ Twitter tantrum yesterday, here’s a brief recap.

In an op-ed in the Globe and Mail Monday, CTV personality Marci Ien, a black woman, wrote about how she’s been repeatedly stopped by police while driving in the last eight months, despite having broken no laws. Ien said the most recent stop took place in her own driveway. A police car was parked behind her, but when she got out to ask him what was wrong—on her own property—she said he yelled at her to get back inside.

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“That I have lived in the neighbourhood for 13 years didn't matter. But being black mattered. Maybe the hooded parka I was wearing mattered, too,” Ien wrote. “I was at home. My safe place. And I was scared.”

As the officer looked through her identification, Ien said he asked if she lived in her house. He told her she had driven past a stop sign but that he was going to let her off with a warning.

Ien wrote that she told the officer she would pay a ticket if she’d done something wrong. She said she explained to the cop that this was the third incident of its kind she’d experienced in eight months.

“I asked the officer point blank: ‘How do I explain this to my kids? I teach them to be respectful, fair and kind, but I'm not feeling respected, served or protected right now,’” Ien wrote. In response, the officer said goodnight and left, she said.

Perhaps because it struck such a chord, the article was shared widely. And it seems that triggered some Toronto police brass, because yesterday they hit back at Ien on Twitter.

“I have viewed the video footage of your vehicle stop. You were stopped because of your driving behaviour. You failed to stop at a stop sign. It was dark. Your race was not visible on the video and only became apparent when you stepped out of the vehicle in your drive way,” wrote Staff Supt. Mario Di Tommaso in a tweet that garnered hundreds of likes and retweets.

Const. Ryan Willmer chimed in, retweeting Tomasso’s tweet with the comment “When the truth comes out. #VideoEvidence.”

Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon tweeted, “We are accountable. The whole event (incl. the traffic infraction) is on camera. The ethnicity of the driver is not visible until after she was pulled over, when she exits the car. The Chief invited her last night on @CP24 to come in & view the video.”

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Toronto police association spokesman Mike McCormack tweeted “the double standard is when opinion is presented as fact. The @TorontoPolice dashcam video presents a different version of facts than those put forward by @MaciIen.” He also screenshotted part of a takedown of Ien that referenced an old interview in which she admitted she likes speeding.

Retired cops were also quick to jump into the fray, and it’s no surprise whose side they were on.

“It is essential for Police Leaders to call BS when BS is served. Calling Race when its got nothing to do with Race hurts everyone,” tweeted retired Niagara police chief Jeff McGuire.

VICE reached out to Toronto police for comment but has not yet heard back.

I'm going to put aside the specifics of Ien’s anecdote because I wasn’t there.

What I can say is the cops’ haughty reaction to a private citizen’s concerns about racial profiling seems entirely inappropriate. And responding in that manner publicly has a number of consequences. It subjects Ien to racist trolls who were already no doubt skeptical of her story to begin with; it bolsters the idea that police culture is like a fraternity, where backing each other up comes before public accountability; and it serves as an intimidation tactic for other people of colour who may also have experienced racial profiling or racist crimes. We already know that hate crimes are underreported. Who would want to report one to cops when this is how dismissive they are to a very valid charge of systemic bias?

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To that end, I have no idea what the Toronto police are so self-righteous about.

At this very moment, one of their officers, Michael Theriault, and his brother Christian Theriault, are facing charges of aggravated assault and assault with a weapon for beating black teenager Dafonte Miller with a steel pipe to the point where his left eye had to be removed. Michael Theriault is also accused of lying to cover it up, while his dad John Theriault, a cop on the professional standards’ unit, has been accused of interfering with the investigation to protect his son.

This is also the same police force that disproportionately cards—street checks—black and brown men and refuses to destroy its database of information gathered from those random stops, which are now illegal in Ontario.

As an exclamation point on just how shitty Toronto police have handled themselves this week, Chief Mark Saunders essentially blamed the LGBT community for not providing cops with tips leading them to alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur quickly enough.

“Nobody was coming to us with anything,” Saunders told the Globe and Mail. This, despite the fact that residents of the Gay Village have been ringing alarm bells about a potential serial killer for years.

When it comes to building trust in racialized and marginalized communities, the Toronto police have a hell of a lot of work to do. They’re not going to get there by publicly flogging those who rightfully point out their flaws.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.