I Guess Toronto Police Just Don't Care About Evidence

New numbers point to racist weed arrests but why should the cops have to answer for that?

by Manisha Krishnan
Jul 7 2017, 7:00pm

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders discusses Project Claudia. CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim

They say the definition of insanity is when you keep doing the same thing expecting different results.

Maybe a columnist's version of that is pointing out the same problems and expecting anything to change, because, when it comes to writing about Toronto police's (mis)handling of the weed file or about how prohibition is racist, I am definitely starting to feel a little nuts.

But here goes.

Yesterday, the Toronto Star released a massive investigation confirming what a lot of people already know: cops target black people when enforcing weed laws. The decade-worth of data obtained by the Star (and you should check it out for yourself) shows that black people with clean records are three times as likely to get charged with low-level possession (up to 30 grams) than white people with clean records. There is nothing to suggest a difference in pot use between the two groups.

Of 11,299 people who were arrested and racially identified for this soon-to-be-completely-legal activity between 2003-2013, 25.2 percent were black while 52.8 percent were white; adjust for population (black people make up only around 8 percent of the population) and you see what's wrong with this very skewed picture. The investigation also found that black people—and especially children—are much more likely than any other racial group to be detained while awaiting bail.

The findings are similar to what the Star uncovered with its carding investigation.

As with carding, the cops have up until now been able to brush aside accusations of racist prohibition enforcement by pointing to a lack of evidence. (And it's always worth noting they have yet to prove that carding has any link to public safety.) So you'd think this bomb would be a bit of a PR nightmare for them, right?

Well, when I reached out to Mark Pugash, director of corporate communications for Toronto Police Service for an interview yesterday, he said, "I'm not in a position to comment because I haven't read it." He never replied when I asked if there was anyone in the TPS who could offer comment. Thanks, Mark.

But actually, his non-response says a lot. It says the cops aren't really concerned about hard proof of systemic racism within their ranks. To the point where, having been contacted by the Star over the course of this investigation, they didn't even have so much as a boilerplate statement prepared. But hey, maybe they don't give a shit about evidence at all, which brings me to my next point.

Just a few days ago, VICE News reported that 80 percent of people arrested during last year's Project Claudia dispensary raids have had their charges dropped or stayed. It's an outcome everyone but the cops, apparently, could've predicted.

The cops are likely (they won't say) spending millions on these ongoing dispensary raids, which I'm sure will come in handy when it comes time to justify their ever-expanding billion-dollar budget.

When I sat down with Pugash to discuss the TPS's war against dispensaries last month, he said there are far fewer pot shops on the streets now than there were a year ago, as if that's a great reason for spending these kinds of resources.

To top everything off, legalization, still a year away, is looking like more of the same. There is no plan for granting amnesty to those unfairly saddled with criminal records, and no word if those people will be given the chance to become players in the (very white) legal market.

As for punishment, selling to a minor is punishable by up to 14 years in jail, as is possessing too many "harvesting plants." Possessing more than 30 grams of dried flower could yield five years of jail time. And then there's the new driving laws, which could allow officers to pull drivers over without reasonable suspicion that they're drunk.

Of course, officials will say, those are the maximum penalties possible on a sliding scale. Guess we'll find out who bears the brunt of them in another 10 years' time.

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