TORONTO — Decades of complaints about racial profiling and discrimination by police officers in Canada's most populous city have prompted a wide-ranging inquiry by Ontario's Human Rights Commission into the force's practices.
Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane said Thursday that the probe will examine the activities of the Toronto Police Service from Jan. 1, 2010, to June 30, 2017 to see to what extent the force's actions involved profiling and discrimination against the black community in a number of areas including stops, questioning and use of force.
“This inquiry is not about establishing whether the community's concerns are founded,'' Mandhane said. “We know that they are. This inquiry is about determining the specific interactions between police and civilians that are a cause for concern.''
The commission said it will use data to examine the police service culture, training, policies, procedures and accountability mechanisms.
“In the past, the commission has brought the lived experience of community members into focus and showed the harmful impact of racial profiling on individuals and communities,'' Mandhane said. ``This should have been enough. But it wasn't. These stories were often dismissed as anecdotal or the result of a few bad apples. That's why this inquiry is markedly different from anything we have done in the past.''
The commission has asked the force and the province's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, to turn over a range of data to determine how and where racial profiling exists in law enforcement.
Mandhane said the SIU has agreed but thus far Toronto police have not turned over the data requested. She urged the service to provide the information to the commission but would not rule out going to court to obtain a warrant to get the data.
Toronto police spokesman Meaghan Gray said the service welcomes the inquiry by the commission and views it as a chance to improve community relations.
“We have been continually making changes to address issues of implicit bias in delivering police services,'' Gray said in a statement. “The commission has been at the table throughout this process and we look forward to working with them again as we are always looking for ways to improve our relationship with the communities we serve.''
Gray disagreed, however, with the commission's characterization of the force's co-operation over the past five months, offering to share their correspondence with media. The service has offered office space and access to the raw data and documents to review, she said.
“Our discussions have included a detailed explanation about how a significant portion of the information they have requested is not readily available or not available in the form they seek,'' she said. “In order to provide that information, the service would have to spend millions of dollars — resources that have not been allocated for in our existing budget.''
Alok Mukherjee, former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, said the force has historically been cautious about handing over data it gathers. The raw information required by the commission is in the possession of the police but it will require dedicated resources to produce answers, he said.
“There is a great deal of sensitivity in releasing data,'' he said. “There is no hesitation in collecting data.''
In an interview with AdvocateDaily.com, Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg says the inquiry “is a welcome development that will hopefully boost community relations between police and residents.”
Friedberg, a partner with Caramanna Friedberg LLP, says that while the provision of data is necessary in order for the inquiry to have any meaningful results, there may be sensitivities and logistical issues around releasing the information, particularly if it’s not currently in a form that can be made available without additional resources.
“There are many considerations when it comes to turning over data. There may be privacy concerns,” he says. “There may be issues around making investigative techniques public.”
Friedberg says in light of the inquiry, the Toronto police should develop a process to provide data to the commission.
“The police should be given an opportunity to be heard as to what the issues are around the release of the data,” he says. "They are entitled to fairness."
The inquiry was welcomed by Black Lives Matter Toronto, which commended the human rights commission “for doing what so few provincial institutions are ready to do.''
Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city's police services board will work with the commission on the inquiry.
“The vast majority of the men and women who serve in today's Toronto Police Service do a good job keeping our city safe and wouldn't as individuals even think about carrying out their duties in a manner which would include any element of discrimination or racial profiling,'' he said in a statement.
“But I acknowledge that racial profiling still does exist. Even though considerable work has been done ... more work is still needed to examine how we can improve police services policies and procedures that contribute to discrimination and racial profiling.''
Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Marie-France Lalonde said she cannot break the apparent impasse between the commission and police service and urged them to work together to find a solution.
“A collaborative effort, a conversation, is key in all aspects of everything we do,'' she said. “But I do not have the authority to make decisions in the operations of a police service.''