Toronto

Provincial police watchdog to start collecting race-based data

For the first time, the body that investigates allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Ontario's police forces is set to start collecting race-based data.

Special Investigations Unit to begin collecting data on race, ethnicity, religion and Indigenous identity

The province's Special Investigations Unit is planning to expand the data it collects to include the race, ethnicity, religion and Indigenous identity of complainants and officers who are the subject of investigations. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

For the first time, the body that investigates allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Ontario's police forces is set to start collecting race-based data.

Until now, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) — which investigates interactions with police that involve serious injury, death or sexual assault — only collected and maintained data on the age and gender of people who were involved in investigations.

But in April, the SIU was authorized to start collecting data on the race, ethnicity, religion and Indigenous identity of complainants and officers who are the subject of its investigations, spokesperson Monica Hudon said in an email to CBC News.

"The SIU has struck up a committee that is diligently working to determine how we will go about collecting this data in a respectful and sensitive manner, all while ensuring the information we gather is presented in a way that does not identify any individuals," Hudon said.

She said the collection of the data is likely to start on Oct. 1.

The news comes amid widespread protests against the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minn. on May 25, and as the SIU investigates the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinsky-Paquet, a Black woman who fell from a 24th-floor balcony on May 27 while Toronto police officers were in her apartment investigating a domestic call.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), which probes public complaints against police and has the power to conduct reviews of systemic problems in policing, announced a similar data-collection initiative in April.

Racial justice lawyer Anthony Morgan, who is the manager of the City of Toronto's Confronting Anti-black Racism Unit, told CBC News the SIU's move is an "important and historic step forward.

"It is critically important for transparency and, most important for what Black communities are saying, accountability," Morgan said.

Anthony Morgan is a Toronto-area community advocate and lawyer. (Submitted by Anthony Morgan)

But, he noted, this decision is comes at the "painful cost," of a "disproportionately high" number of Black people being hurt or killed by police.

 "This is not happening out of the good will of the SIU or any politician," he said.

"This shift or reform comes out of struggle. It doesn't come out of benevolence of the system."

Studying patterns

Scot Wortley, a longtime researcher on the impact of race-based data and a professor at the University of Toronto's Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, told CBC News it's "about time" the SIU started doing this.

"I do think this is a major step forward studying patterns, and, importantly, trends in police use of force," Wortley said.

"There's going to be probably a lot of initiatives coming forth as a result of the current crisis designed to reduce racial disparities and improve public confidence in the police. But we need to be able to track whether these new initiatives are going to have an impact or not in reducing racial disparities."

Professor Scott Wortley, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, conducted data analysis for a 2018 report on race and policing from the Ontario Human Rights Commission. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Wortley conducted the data analysis for a sweeping 2018 interim report on race and policing from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), which found a Black person in Toronto was nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be shot and killed by police.

The OHRC report also outlined how Black people make up 8.8 per cent of Toronto's population, but were "grossly over-represented" in investigations by the SIU.

Last September, Toronto's police services board also approved a policy that directs officers to start tracking and reporting the races of people involved in certain encounters with police.

Questions of access

Wortley also said that transparency must be a major consideration with initiatives like these.

"It's one thing to collect this data, but who is going to be able to access it? My view is the data collected by the police belongs to the community," he said.

"It is not police property — and there should be discussions on how that data, [while] protecting the privacy of individuals involved, can be available to academics and community members who have an interest in analyzing and examining these racial disparities."

Morgan, similarly, called for "democratic data collection," wherein researchers could have "equitable access" to this information so there are no concerns about data manipulation.

He also said society has a lot of ground to make up when it comes to addressing a "dramatic police accountability deficit.

"I'm hopeful that we are at a moment where people are actually saying enough is enough. We have these services that are supposed to serve us, but all the evidence suggests they are negatively serving us … in ways that are, in too many instances, deadly."

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from the CBC's Lauren Pelley

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