Probe into racial profiling by Toronto police sidelined after 'pretty basic data' withheld: OHRC

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) plans to seek legal action against Toronto police after it claims the force failed to provide what it calls "pretty basic data" to complete a "public interest inquiry" into racial profiling practices.

Chief commissioner considers legal action to get information; cops maintain they're co-operating

Ontario Human Rights chief commissioner Renu Mandhane says they plan to seek legal action against Toronto Police Service for failing to provide a 'wide-range of data' for the probe into racial profiling by the force. (CBC)

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) plans to seek legal action against Toronto police after it claims the force failed to provide what it calls "pretty basic data" to complete a "public interest inquiry" into racial profiling practices.

Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of OHRC, publicly announced the probe last week into the activities of the Toronto Police Service between Jan. 1, 2010 and June 30, 2017 to determine whether they are consistent with racial profiling and discrimination against the city's black community.

Now, the commission said it has the authority under law to obtain a court-ordered warrant to force police to hand over this "wide range of data." Mandhane said that she sent letters to Toronto Police Service, the Toronto Police Services Board and the province's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) five months ago. 

The Toronto Police Services Board has handed over the requested information, though it's not a lot and much of it is publicly available, and the SIU has committed to handing over data, she said. Toronto police have yet to comply, according to the commission. 

"The police service has said they are co-operating, but it's unclear what that means at this point because we haven't received any of the data," she told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

Mandhane explains this information enables the commission to track people's interactions with Toronto police.

"It would allow us to understand on whom and under what circumstances force was used and specific charges and the form of release," said Mandhane, adding that the probe aligns with the OHRC's strategic plan to reduce systemic discrimination in the criminal justice system by 2020. 

The data used in the inquiry covers police activities and practices. The complete list includes:

  • Stopping and questioning practices.
  • Use of force.
  • Arrests and charges.
  • Forms and conditions of release for various offences, including:   
    • Simple drug possession,
    • Obstructing or assaulting a police officer,
    • Causing a disturbance,
    • Or, failing to comply with a bail condition. 

"We think this is pretty basic data that any intelligence-based police service should be able to provide," said Mandhane. 

'We don't pay organizations to comply with their human rights obligations'

Meaghan Gray, spokesperson for Toronto Police Service, noted that over the last five months the force has been "actively engaged" with the commission, but 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, she said, which is not in Toronto police's existing budget. 

Mandhane calls this an excuse. 

"The Toronto Police Service has $1 billion budget. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has a $5 million budget that is meant to cover our provincial mandate," she said.

Last month, Canada's largest school board, Toronto District School Board, voted to end a controversial program that places uniformed police officers in dozens of public schools across the city. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

OHRC is an independent regulatory body that oversees the province's Human Rights Code. 

"We don't pay organizations to comply with their human rights obligations," said Mandhane. 

"We have authority under the Human Rights Code to request this information and we are part of the regulatory regime that the Toronto police operates under."

In turn, Gray stated the Toronto Police Service has offered to provide office space and full access to the raw data for commission staff to review. 

"I don't need another office," said Mandhane. "I need to actually see the data."

'Why are we spending money with an inquiry?'

Mike McCormack, head of the Toronto Police Association — which represents 8,000 uniform and civilian officers— previously slammed the probe and maintains that the end result has been pre-determined. 

"The statement that racial profiling and discrimination has been allowed to continue within the Toronto Police Service for decades and now it's time to stop it — I think that the issue for us as a membership is that the concept of neutrality or unbiased view of police practices seems to have been evaporated," he said Tuesday in an interview on Metro Morning

"Why are we spending money with an inquiry?"   

Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, is disappointed with how the OHRC's inquiry is framing police. (CBC)

McCormack has also raised questions as to why the OHRC needs this information if it already knows the outcome of the review. 

"Are you requesting the data to validate that position because you've already made that conclusion that [racial profiling] exists," he asked.   

Mandhane states the probe isn't about attacking officers, rather addressing possible discrimination in policing that targets the black community. 

"An officer on the street wants the community to have trust in their abilities and this kind of analysis will allow us to move forward with that," she said. 

With files from CBC Radio's Metro Morning