Tory tables 'sweeping' reforms to Toronto police, including budget reallocation

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced the start of what he calls sweeping reforms to the Toronto Police Services following the publication of a new report that outlines more recommendations to address systemic racism.

Proposed changes include focus on non-police alternatives for communities, force accountability

John Tory announced Tuesday that more than 80 proposed policing reforms will be implemented as systemic racism continues to be a pervasive issue within the Toronto police force. (CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced the start of what he calls sweeping reforms to the Toronto Police Services following the publication of a new city report that outlines more than 80 recommendations to address systemic racism within the force.

The most significant of the proposed reforms involve creating non-police alternatives for communities, and identifying funding that can be relocated from the police budget to community safety models, said Tory at a press conference Tuesday.

The changes are likely to be implemented in the coming weeks, as opposed to months or years and the public will be informed throughout the reform process, he said. They will be considered at an upcoming Toronto Police Services Board meeting on Aug. 18.

"This is a recognition of the fact that we know we must do more because systemic racism in policing threatens the equal rights and opportunity and justice and wellbeing of Indigenous, Black and marginalized communities in our city and that is not something that's acceptable to me as mayor or to you, the people of Toronto." he said

Calls to defund the police and reallocate the force's budget towards community-based organizations have been a major thread of recent protests against anti-Black racism. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The proposed changes to policing come after months of protests against anti-Black racism worldwide and in Toronto, sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis and the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her balcony after police responded to a call at her home.

Calls to defund the police have been at the core of these protests as community advocates have asked why police are asked to handle mental-health service calls that they aren't equipped to handle

The report was developed following Toronto city council adopting a list of proposed reforms to police at the end of June, and after the TPSB put forward "concrete steps toward reform" that same month, Tory told reporters at the press conference.

"These [recommendations] represent the most sweeping series of proposed changes to policing," said Tory, adding that he believes they can be implemented in a way that keep police motivated to do their jobs well while stepping back to allow other organizations to take on some of their current responsibilities. 

Along with a focus on funding community organizations, the recommendations include examining accountability and exploring removing legal barriers that prevent further disciplinary action for police misconduct.

Thousands of people have participated in protests in Toronto against anti-Black racism within policing. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The board should also recommend to the new chief of police that anti-Black racism training be made permanent and the use of force model should be revised to focus on deescalation, the report reads.

'Highly disturbing' data shows Black people disproportionately charged

There's an urgency to the recommendations as it's clear marginalized communities are facing discrimination by Toronto police, as outlined in a new report published yesterday by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), Tory said.

The OHRC study found that Black people only make up 8.8 per cent of Toronto's population, but represent almost 32 per cent of people charged by Toronto police. The results of the analysis that examined Toronto Police Service data from 2013 to 2017 are "highly disturbing", the commission said in a press release.

The findings in the OHRC report are not new, nor a surprise, and Black people in Toronto do not need another report to highlight the racism they face due to police every day, said racial justice lawyer Anthony Morgan, manager of the City of Toronto's Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, at a news conference yesterday.

They echo the findings of a 2018 OHRC report that found that Black residents in Toronto are 20 times more likely to be killed by police than white people.

City needs to commit to community organizations, argues advocate

Paul Bailey, president of the Black Health Alliance, a Toronto-based charity focused on improving the health outcomes of Black Canadians says a discussion on reforms is welcome. But, he says, to make concrete change the culture of policing itself needs to be addressed with a focus on human rights.

Bailey adds the city is currently reimagining the role of police, which he says should include a commitment to a sustainable poverty reduction action plan focused on funding organizations that improve health outcomes and could ultimately address crime and other issues.

"Even if we make reforms, even if we shift things around...we're still missing the fundamental fact that we need to invest in the upstream and not the downstream," said Bailey. "The system of community safety that we set up is heavily reliant on policing and is hospital based."

While defunding the police and investing in alternate community service models is important, the city needs to invest in a more concrete poverty reduction plan to address the health of marginalized communities, says Paul Bailey, president of the Black Health Alliance. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Along with pushing forward police reforms and reallocating TPS funds to other organizations that can better support communities with issues like mental health — there needs to be a clear commitment to investing in community organizations long-term, he explained.

Issues like gun violence can be mitigated through engaging with deeper discussions around safety and alternative models to support the health of communities, rather than simply rearranging the police funding, he added.

"It's necessary that they think about how that model gets implemented and ensuring it's very community based," he said. 

For instance, the focus in the report on funding the mobile crisis intervention team is important, but the city will need to rely on several other groups to push these types of reforms forward, said Bailey.

"There has to be collective action at both the municipal and provincial levels in the way that that gets deployed," he said. "We need to make's not just these blanket strategies that don't actually have any impact on the specific ways that communities experience issues."