Ontario cops were pissed last week when Premier Kathleen Wynne told Black Lives Matter Toronto protesters "we still have systemic racism in our society." So pissed, they reached out to her demanding she clarify whether or not she was saying cops are racist.
In an email obtained by VICE, Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA) President Rob Jamieson told OPP members that the OPPA board of directors was "very clear with both the Premier's Office and representatives from [Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services] on what action we would take should they not address this matter appropriately."
When reached by VICE, the OPPA said by "action" it meant it was prepared to publicly call out Wynne on her comments. But that's no longer necessary because Wynne has since made it clear (to the cops) she wasn't talking about police when she mentioned "systemic racism."
"Each and every day police officers across Ontario do everything they can to keep us safe... Their contribution to building safer, strong communities can be seen across our province and I am proud to stand with them," reads a quote from Wynne, included in Jamieson's email.
According to the email, Wynne sent a response to the OPPA, Police Association of Ontario, the Toronto Police Association, and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. In it, she explains that by "systemic racism," she was talking about the prevalence of visible-minority children represented in the child welfare system and lagging graduation rates and higher incarceration rates amongst black and aboriginal youth.
"These are issues across society and across society we need to do more to address them," Wynne said. She did not, however, make reference to what BLMTO members argue is institutional racism in law enforcement, including a lack of transparency in the way the province's Special Investigations Unit investigates police who fatally shoot civilians. BLMTO camped outside Toronto police headquarters for two weeks in protest of such policies and the deaths of black men like Andrew Loku at the hands of cops.
The premier's office directed VICE to comments Wynne made during a media availability last week, in which she said, "I'm not saying anything about the particular police service in Toronto or anywhere else. I am saying that across society, we have to recognize that there are challenges that we have in terms of racism."
Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Service Association, told VICE Wynne's comments don't really clear anything up.
"What about policing? Does she have legitimate concerns, does she have any concerns about systemic racism in policing?," he said, pointing out BLMTO isn't protesting over graduation rates or child welfare.
"I think it's a lame explanation for her comments."
McCormack said Toronto police are "100 percent" open to having a dialogue about race-related concerns as long as they're "based on facts and evidence."
But asked if the cops have had a meeting with BLMTO, McCormack laughed and said "no."
"So far I haven't seen anything that indicates they want to have a meaningful discussion around this. It just seems those who shout the loudest, their points are more valid. I'm really not interested in taking part in a discussion around that but I'm definitely interested in taking part in discussions that are factually and evidence-based," he said.
"When people are shouting rhetoric about people being murdered by the police, tortured, and beaten every day, I don't see how that's a debate.... Are those legitimate concerns? I would say no," he said.
With respect to issues such as carding, where you're far more likely to be arbitrarily stopped by police if you're black, McCormack conceded street checks were overused when they were being used to evaluate a cop's performance. He said they can be a "valuable tool" for investigative purposes when done lawfully, but that there is no hard data available to back up that claim.
McCormack also said "crime isn't relevant to population stats" when looking at issues like the overrepresentation of black people in the criminal justice system.
"We go where there's at-risk neighbourhoods, we go where there's calls for service, we go where there's street crime, where there's violent crime, so to say... we don't have a proportion-to-census, it's just never gonna happen that way."
McCormack said he's also skeptical about Toronto city council's recent motion asking for a review of SIU procedures with "an anti-black racism lens" saying the concept is too subjective.
Sandy Hudson, co-founder of BLMTO, told VICE Wynne's comments aren't surprising but demonstrate why the group wants all meetings about systemic racism to take place in public.
"What happens in private is politicians are able to backtrack on things they say," she said, noting it's "weird" of Wynne to criticize incarceration without conceding to systemic racism in policing.
"Not acknowledging that, that's like willful blindness at this point."
As for McCormack's characterization of the movement as being too loud and rhetoric-filled, Hudson said people have been pointing out these issues for years to no avail.
"To say we need to behave in order to be heard is absolutely ludicrous."
The OPPA told VICE it is "satisfied" with Wynne's response
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