The Ontario Human Rights Commission says it has launched an “unprecedented” public interest inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination by the Toronto Police Service.
“Despite the immense pain it has caused, racial discrimination has been allowed to continue for decades,” said Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane in a press conference.
For some Torontonians, the announcement may sound like a promise to ask questions black people already know the answers to. In 2013, the Toronto Star released a three-part investigation that found black people were disproportionately stopped and questioned, with their interactions documented by police, or “carded.”
The Ontario government introduced new rules for police stops in 2016, but problems with profiling persist, criminal and human rights lawyer Shane Martinez told VICE.
“Racism within the Toronto Police Services has existed long before carding and it’s going to exist long after carding,” he says. “The examples are countless—racially profiling people on the street, racially profiling people while they are driving, we’ve had instances where people have been detained for offenses they haven’t committed.”
He says he’s seen examples as ridiculous as an officer telling the court that one of his clients, one of two young black men, had been pulled over while driving because their “car was exceptionally clean.”
Mandhane says the goal behind the inquiry isn’t to find out whether racial profiling exists. Rather, the commission wants to analyze data and find out which specific interactions between cops and civilians that most commonly involve discrimination, so that it can “propose targeted solutions.”
The commission has called on the police department to release a wide range of data from January 2010 to June 2017, which the commission plans to analyze for disparities. But cops and the commission appear to be at odds over what the release of that data should look like.
“While the police will say they are co-operating, we have no data,” said Mandhane at a press conference. To VICE , she adds that the commission asked the department, the police board and Special Investigations Unit for data five months ago because “it isn't an adversarial process and it doesn't need to be… we wanted to give the service ample opportunity to cooperate and to begin the process of providing us with the data.”
While the board and the SIU have agreed to share their information, the police department has not, she says.
Toronto Police Services, however, said in a statement that they “welcome” the inquiry but “the Commission’s characterization of our efforts to date is incorrect.”
The service said that some of the data requested isn’t “readily available.” Also, finding the data and making it usable would cost millions of dollars—money that isn’t in their budget.
“We understand the Commission is equally challenged by budgetary pressures and, as a result, we have offered (more than once) to provide office space and full access to the raw data and documents for a dedicated team of Commission staff to conduct their review. The Commission has not responded.”
The announcement comes at a time when the Toronto Police Services have been in the spotlight. Earlier this month the Toronto District School Board voted to end a program that puts armed cops in schools. And on Thursday, Yatim’s killer Constable James Forcillo had his bail revoked for breaching conditions, after being convicted for shooting Yatim to death on a Toronto streetcar in 2013. He will now be sent to prison. (He was on bail while he appealed the decision.)
So what happens after compiling all this data? The OHRC could make recommendations to the police based on what they find. After such a large inquiry, they might also be well-positioned to file litigation before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against the police department if police don’t put those recommendations into practice.
“It sounds as though the scope of this inquiry is going to be quite broad,” says Martinez, so any litigation may require honing in “on a specific sub issue.” (The OHRC has intervened on cases that Martinez filed in the past.)
A Toronto Police Association spokesperson told VICE it wasn't fair for the inquiry to begin with what was, in his view, suggestions from the commission that racism has been "allowed to continue in the police force for decades."*
"To say we have no individuals at all that have racist views or anything would be naive," president Mike McCormack told VICE. "Of course we have, like any other aspect of the population."
"If there are issues we should address those issues," McCormack added. "But this is not a neutral platform of getting to the facts."
Follow Katie Toth on Twitter.
*Updated with comment from Toronto Police Association at 2:45 PM ET.