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A Black person is 20 times more likely than a white person to be fatally shot by Toronto police

The numbers from 2013 to 2017 are contained in an interim report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission on racial profiling by the Toronto Police.

by Rachel Browne
Dec 10 2018, 3:35pm

A Black person in Toronto was nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be shot and killed by the Toronto Police Service between 2013 and 2017.

The numbers were uncovered as part of an interim report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission released on Monday into racial profiling and discrimination of Black people, who comprise only 8.8 percent of Toronto’s population, by one of Canada’s largest police forces.

The data confirms long-standing concerns of members of the Black communities in the city that they are over-represented in incidents of serious injury and deadly use of force involving Toronto police officers. It also raises broader concerns about transparency, accountability, and officer misconduct with the police service.

The commission also found that the over-representation of Black civilians in situations involving use of force by the Toronto Police appeared to increase in tandem with the seriousness of the police conduct.

Of the 244 cases analyzed from 2013 to 2017, the report found that Black people made up 30 percent of the use of force cases that resulted in serious injury or death, 60 percent of deadly encounters, and 70 percent of fatal police shootings. There were 36 police use of force cases during that time period, eight that resulted in deadly encounters, and seven police shootings that resulted in the death of the civilian.

“The data is disturbing and raises serious concerns about racial discrimination in use of force,” notes the report entitled A Collective Impact.

The Commission analyzed data from the Special Investigations Unit, the independent police oversight body that investigates instances of serious injury, death, or alleged sexual assault involving officers and civilians. The SIU data was extracted from two periods of time: from 2000 and 2006 and from 2013 to 2017 and analyzed by Scott Wortley, a University of Toronto criminologist.

"The data is disturbing and raises serious concerns about racial discrimination in use of force."

In a statement, the Toronto Police Services Board and the Toronto Police Service said that the report "builds on the hard work we have been doing already to confront issues of systemic bias."

"We recognize that there are those within Toronto’s Black communities who feel that, because of the colour of their skin, the police, including when it comes to use of force, have at times, treated them differently. We understand that this has created a sense of distrust that has lasted generations. We – the Board and the Service – know that only by acknowledging these lived experiences can we continue to work with our community partners to achieve meaningful changes," the statement reads.

Describing the rank and file as "dedicated, professional, and fair", it added that "no institution or organization, including the Toronto Police, is immune from overt and implicit bias."

"Some may raise questions about the approach, methodology and statistical basis of this report, and it is important that all of these issues be scrutinized to ensure the fullest and fairest analysis and accounting," it said, while providing no further detail on what specifically it took issue with.

Members of the Commission also spoke with 130 people in Black communities in Toronto as part of the research. Many people spoke about their personal encounters with the Toronto Police that resulted in humiliation, fear, and “expectations of negative treatment by police,” according to the report.

The Commission reports hearing frequent complaints of police officers conducting unnecessary stops, questioning and searches of members of Black communities. They also heard of instances where socioeconomic status and race may overlap.

"On an individual level, Black people often feel humiliation, fear, anger, frustration and helplessness as a result of perceived racial profiling."

"For example, while driving, Black individuals reported being pulled over more often and questioned by the TPS if they drove a nice car, were in a predominantly white area or had other males in the car,” the report describes. "Social science research shows that on an individual level, Black people often feel humiliation, fear, anger, frustration and helplessness as a result of perceived racial profiling. Frequent exposure to police stop and search activities can have a negative impact on mental health."

The report found that during 2013 to 2017, Black and white people were overrepresented in SIU investigations where mental health issues were noted at the time of the incident. It also found that in use-of-force cases, white people carried weapons and allegedly attacked or threatened officers more frequently than Black people.

SIU investigations account for a small amount of incidents involving use of force. The Commission plans to examine lower-level use of force incidents in the future.

The report, launched last year, is one of the first of its kind to probe discrimination and racial profiling by the police service. The final report is expected to be released in 2020.

There is no national crime-related data is not broken down by race, nor national police use of force data, so it is up to researchers and bodies such as the Commission to compile their own data. Renu Mandhane, the Ontario Human Rights Commission's Chief Commissioner, called on the Toronto Police to "immediately collect and release" such data.

Mandhane also called on the Toronto Police to "acknowledge the seriousness of our findings and accept they are serious and warrant further action."

Police forces in the U.S. have been urged to voluntarily disclose their statistics, including use of force data broken down by race, as part of efforts to create a national database. Last month, Vox analyzed the data voluntarily submitted by some police forces to the FBI that found that Black people made up 31 percent of people killed by police in 2012, even though they make up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population.

A 2017 analysis by VICE News of fatal and non-fatal shooting incidents from 50 of the largest police forces in the U.S. found that police in these departments shoot black people at higher rates than previous data had shown. The data showed that police shot at least 1,670 black people from 2010 to 2016. Of that total, 55 percent involved black people, more than double the population of black people in these communities.

Cover image of Toronto police cruiser, following a mass casualty event in Toronto on Sunday, July 22, 2018. Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press