Toronto police chief publicly apologizes for over policing of Black residents

Toronto Police Chief James Ramer apologizes to the public after the service’s own analysis reveals disturbing trends about bias in policing. Faiza Amin speaks to Black community members who question the timing and intentions of the apology.

By Lucas Casaletto and Meredith Bond

Toronto’s interim police chief apologized to the city’s Black residents as the force released previously unseen race-based data on the use of force and strip searches.

The daunting statistics published by Toronto Police Services (TPS) on Wednesday are related to incidents in 2020.

The numbers show that Black people faced excessive police enforcement and use of force, and were more likely to have an officer point a gun at them, whether armed or unarmed, than white people in similar situations.

James Ramer issued a public apology, acknowledging the force’s shortcomings.

“The results have confirmed what, for many decades, racialized communities — particularly the Black and Indigenous communities — have been telling us; that they are disproportionately over-policed,” Ramer said.

“This data demonstrates the unfortunate realities of those experiences. As an organization, we have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and unbiased policing.”

“For this, as Chief of Police, and on behalf of the [TPS], I am sorry, and I apologize unreservedly,” Ramer added.

Beverly Bain, a spokesperson for No Pride in Policing, challenged Ramer during his press conference, saying Black people did not ask for an apology.

“What we have asked for you to do is to stop brutalizing us, to stop killing us, to stop carding us, to stop continuously stopping us and harassing our children,” said Bain.

“We have asked for the preservation of our lives. This is insulting to Black people. This is insulting to Indigenous people. This is insulting to racialized people.”

Bain continued, explicitly telling Ramer that “we don’t accept your apology.”

“Your police officers are doing the job. They are the foot soldiers. They’re the ones who deploy on the ground. They’re the ones who will be interfaced with, and they are the ones who put our lives at risk,” said Bain.

“The policies that you have in place to hold police accountable internally are not actually sufficient.”

U of T professor Notisha Massaquoi, who was key part in drafting the policy that made it mandatory for police services to collect race-based-data, said Black people have been having this conversation with Toronto police for years.

“The narratives that we’ve been explaining and exploring and pushing for are actually now narratives that the TPS can can actually accept, which is somewhat insulting. But at least we’re able to have the same conversation and know that we’re talking about the same thing, and that we’re not being discredited in our concerns that we’re expressing as black people in the city of Toronto,” said Massaquoi.

She also said she didn’t hear much of an apology from Ramer.

“An apology involves acknowledgement of harms done. It involves acknowledging your responsibility involves the mistakes that you’ve made. It’s very clear when you make an apology, that’s genuine, that you are apologizing for your behavior. That’s not what we heard today,” said Massaquoi. “An apology also involves what are the reparations or how are you going to repair the damage and a clear plan and pathway to that? I didn’t hear any any of those things. What I really heard was we’re apologizing for what you’re about to hear in this data, not how did we get to this place?”

“The release of this data will cause pain for many”

Middle Eastern people were also overrepresented regarding enforcement and the use of force. In comparison, other groups — such as Latino, East and Southeast Asian residents — experienced less enforcement of their representation in the population but saw more use of force when interacting with police.

“The release of this data will cause pain for many. Your concerns have deep roots that go beyond the release of today’s report. We must improve; we will do better,” Ramer promised.

toronto police

The Toronto Police Service (TPS).

“As difficult as these findings are, we recognize that this is some of the most important work we have ever done. Getting to this point with our data has been challenging, but we are committed to using the 2020 findings as a baseline to build upon actions that have already begun and will continue in the years ahead.”

Ramer says the race-based data found that members of the Black community are 2.2 times more likely to experience enforcement interaction with TPS officers, and 1.6 times more likely to experience force once involved in an enforcement action.

“Our goal is to focus our efforts on the systemic bias attributable to our actions, the actions we can control,” the police chief said.

“We believe this is the most reliable path forward for us to measure the outcomes of the reforms. We have identified together with our community advisory panel that this approach will ultimately benefit our communities who are experiencing systemic racism.”

Ramer says the TPS will continue to listen, engage and act “with the goal of propelling us forward in our ultimate goal of providing fair and equitable policing to all.”

Ramer has been part of the TPS since 1980. He was named interim police chief on August 1, 2020, following the resignation of Mark Saunders.

With files from The Canadian Press

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