Probe into racial profiling by Toronto police will only prove what black community knows, says activist

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has launched a “public interest inquiry” into racial profiling and racial discrimination at the Toronto Police Service, the OHRC announced Thursday.

OHRC chief commissioner Renu Mandhane said data requested from force, board and Special Investigations Unit

Desmond Cole is applauding the OHRC's decision to probe the activities of the Toronto Police Service between Jan. 1, 2010 an June 30, 2017 to determine whether they are consistent with racial profiling and racial discrimination against the black community. (Petar Valkov/CBC)

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) "public interest inquiry" into racial profiling by Toronto police will provide proof for those still questioning if anti-black racism exists, but won't on its own change the everyday discrimination that members of the black community face, says a prominent activist.

Desmond Cole is applauding the commission's decision to probe the activities of the Toronto Police Service between Jan. 1, 2010 an June 30, 2017 to determine whether they are consistent with racial profiling and racial discrimination against the black community.

But while he says the commission is "doing the right thing," he says the results will only confirm what many in that community know and that what's needed instead is action.

"Black people don't require a new report or an inquiry to tell us what's happening in our lives with the police every day," Cole told CBC News following the announcement of the inquiry Thursday. "We already know."

Discrimination allowed to continue for decades: commissioner

"The only thing that's going to get the police to finally do right by the community is if politicians force them to do so. And there is not a politician in this city and there is not a politician in this province at this time that is willing to take on the Toronto police."

The OHRC's chief commissioner Renu Mandhane said Thursday that she launched her probe five months ago when she sent letters to the TPS, the Toronto Police Services Board and the province's Special Investigations Unit (SIU), requesting a "wide range" of data.

"Despite the immense pain and suffering it has caused, discrimination in policing has been allowed to continue for decades," Mandhane told reporters Thursday morning in announcing the inquiry.

"It is simply unacceptable that people who were racially profiled in their youth have to warn their grandchildren about it."

Police activities and practices that will be covered by the inquiry include:

  • stopping and questioning practices.
  • use of force.
  • arrests and charges, and forms and conditions of release for various offence categories, including simple drug possession, obstructing or assaulting a police officer, causing a disturbance, failing to comply with a bail condition.

TPS hasn't handed over information yet, commissioner says

Members of activist group Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLM TO) were present at the announcement.

BLM TO has been one of a host of community organizations and groups that have accused Toronto police of racial discrimination, taking aim at the role of police officers in schools, carding, and its use of force in incidents involving racial minorities, such as in the death of 45-year-old father of five Andrew Loku, who was shot by an officer in 2015.

OHRC chief commissioner Renu Mandhane has launched an inquiry into racial profiling by the Toronto Police Service. (Ontario)

The group previously issued a list of demands, including an inquiry by the OHRC into the "disproportionate use of force used against black people with mental health challenges."

BLM TO was also among those applauding the elimination of the Toronto police's school resource officer program that saw uniformed officers stationed at dozens of schools across the province. Last week, the Toronto District School Board voted to end the program after nearly a decade of criticism by groups that claimed, among other things, that black students felt intimidated and harassed by the officers.

According to Mandhane, the Toronto Police Services Board has handed over the requested information, though it's not a lot and much of it is publicly available. The SIU, she said, has committed to handing over data, as well.

However, she said while there have been conversations back and forth with the TPS, the force has so far not turned over any information.

That's something Cole worries is an indication that "the police don't have the best interests of the black community at heart right now."

"What is the purpose of their collection of this information if they don't want to share it? And by the way, who do our police think they are as public servants to collect information about the public ... and not share that information with the Human Rights Commission?"

​For its part, the force says it wants to co-operate, Mandhane said, "but it's unclear what that means without the data being made available."

If information is not forthcoming, she said, the OHRC is able to seek a warrant to obtain the data. While Mandhane said she has never done it before, "it's definitely an option we would explore."

TPS 'actively engaged'

The Toronto Police Services Board said it "welcomes" the inquiry and has co-operated from the beginning.

Meaghan Gray, a spokesperson for the TPS, said the force "welcomes" the inquiry, and has been actively working to "address issues of implicit bias in delivering police services.

"The Commission has been at the table throughout this process and we look forward to working with them again as we are always looking for ways to improve our relationship with the communities we serve."

She noted that over the last five months, the force has been "actively engaged" with the commission, including noting that a "significant portion" of the requested information Is not readily available or not available in the form it is needed.

The money required to compile the information runs into the millions of dollars, Gray said, which is not in the force's existing budget. She said the force has offered to provide office space and full access to the raw data for commission staff to review.

In an email to CBC News, the SIU spokesperson Jason Gennaro said the OHRC directed the police watchdog to provide "certain documents related to closed SIU files involving" Toronto police between 2010 and 2017. 

The unit has provided access to the documents under legal obligation to the Ontario human rights code, he added.

Meanwhile, Toronto Police Association head Mike McCormack says the review itself is biased. 

"You've already got a conclusion and now you are going to reverse engineer your data to support that conclusion. how is that a fair and transparent process?"