Blue Line

Black people disproportionately stopped, searched by Toronto police: report

December 14, 2023  By The Canadian Press

Dec. 14, 2023, Toronto, Ont. – Black people in Toronto are disproportionately stopped and searched by police despite the Ontario government’s efforts to regulate so-called “street checks,” the Ontario Human Rights Commission reported Thursday as it concluded a multi-year inquiry into anti-Black racism and discrimination within the Toronto force.

While official street checks appear to have been effectively eliminated, with only one recorded by the Toronto Police Service in 2019, Black people still report being stopped and searched at a much higher rate than people from other racial groups, the commission found in its final report.

A review of qualitative studies conducted for the report found that racial disparities in police stops remain highly significant after statistically controlling for factors such as age, gender, immigration status, residence in high-crime communities, and others.

The report pointed to, among other things, a survey conducted in 2019 – two years after the provincial regulation banning official street checks took effect – that found 40.4 per cent of Black respondents reported being stopped by police at least once in the previous two years, compared with 24.7 per cent of white respondents and 24.9 per cent of Asian respondents.


“This final report highlights, among other things, gaps in the … Toronto Police Service’s policies, procedure, accountability measures to address anti-Black racism in policing,” chief commissioner Patricia DeGuire said in a news conference.

The commission, whose findings are not legally binding, issued more than 100 recommendations as part of the report. If implemented, those recommendations “will help address these gaps and set forth pathways to meaningful action to change outcomes for Black communities,” DeGuire said.

Michael Harris, the commission’s executive director, said the findings show the provincial regulation on street checks “has not met its goal and should be improved.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General said the government has confidence in Ontario’s police services and police chiefs to maintain positive relationships with the communities they serve.

“We are ensuring that police services are equipped with the proper training and techniques to respond to incidents safely for both police and the public, and the resources they need to protect Ontario communities,” Greg Flood said in a statement.

“The ministry will carefully review the recommendations as part of our ongoing work to enhance community safety across the province.”

Police stops encompass a broader range of interactions than what’s prohibited by the province, the report said.

The regulation prevents random stops to collect identifying information when an officer is asking about offences that have or might be committed, asking about suspicious activities to detect offences, or gathering information for intelligence purposes, it said.

It does not apply to many situations not involving arrest, such as when officers are talking to a driver during a traffic stop, investigating a specific offence, carrying out a warrant or simply not asking for identifying information.

“The evidence demonstrates that racial profiling can and often does occur when police are talking to a driver, investigating a specific offence (which can be interpreted very broadly), or when officers do not ask for identifying information,” the document said.

“Excluding such interactions undermines the goal of identifying and eliminating racial profiling in police interactions with the public.”

The province should amend the regulation on street checks to provide clearer criteria for when officers can stop members of the public, and require that those who are stopped be informed of their rights, Harris said.

As well, Toronto police collected and retained “significant personal data” through street checks before the provincial rules took effect, which the commission said should be destroyed unless the data is needed for investigative purposes.

The report also expanded on some of the commission’s previous findings that Black people in Toronto were being charged disproportionately, saying the practice continues. Black people are overrepresented in “discretionary, lower-level charges with a low probability of conviction,” it said.

For example, Black people accounted for 42.5 per cent of those facing obstruction of justice charges, even though they made up 8.8 per cent of Toronto’s population in the 2016 Census, the report found. Meanwhile, white people and those from other racialized groups were underrepresented, it said.

In its recommendations, the commission stressed the need for Toronto police and the police board to commit to legally binding enforcement measures in addressing the issues raised in the report.

Other recommendations include: enacting strategies to transfer certain functions currently being performed by armed officers to other agencies; requiring that officers approach all interactions with Black and racialized people in ways that consider their history of being over-policed, and consider alternates to charges and arrests where appropriate; and expanding circumstances where officers should not use deadly force or shoot to including preventing property damage or loss, the destruction of evidence, or in situations involving a person who poses a threat only to themselves.

Toronto police and the Toronto Police Services Board issued a joint statement welcoming the report and calling it an “important contribution” to ongoing efforts to address anti-Black racism.

“Change is required at all levels, and in all parts, of our police service. It must include our leadership, our culture, our mechanisms of accountability, our training and education, and beyond,” said police Chief Myron Demkiw.

The chair of the police board, Ann Morgan, said that while change is already underway, “more change is necessary, and it must be sustained, comprehensive, and deep.”

They added that since the start of the commission’s inquiry, several steps towards reform have been undertaken, which was acknowledged in Thursday’s report. Those include reviews of use of force and strip search procedures, the implementation of mandatory reviews of body-worn cameras, and mandatory training on Black and Indigenous experiences for all members, they said.

The inquiry into anti-Black racism in Toronto police was launched in 2017 and previously released two interim reports – one in 2018 and one in 2020.

The final report was initially scheduled to be released two years ago, but the commission says there were delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the receipt of information from Toronto police and the Toronto Police Services Board.

Last year, Toronto police released previously unseen race-based data showing disproportionate use of force on Black residents.

Then-interim police chief James Ramer apologized and said the force needs to do better, but his apology was rejected by some critics, who noted Black people have called for years for police to stop treating them unfairly.

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