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Toronto police chief apologizes to Black community as race-based data released

The statistics released Wednesday related to incidents that took place in 2020

By Paola Loriggio in Toronto

Toronto’s Black residents received an apology from the city’s interim police chief on Wednesday as the force released previously unseen race-based data showing disproportionate use of force on them, although the gesture was immediately rejected by some. 

Interim chief James Ramer said the force needs to do better. 

“As an organization, we have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and unbiased policing,” he said at news conference. “For this, as chief of police and on behalf of the service, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly.”

The newly released statistics show Black people faced a disproportionate amount of police enforcement and use of force and were more likely to have an officer point a gun at them – whether perceived as armed or unarmed – than white people in the same situation.

Ramer acknowledged the data “will cause pain for many” and pledged to make improvements. 

“We recognize that when a person has an encounter with the police, it can have a profound impact on their life, their mental health and their trust in policing,” he said. 

“It is for this reason that the Toronto police service must be a driving force and a leader in eliminating all forms of racial discrimination in policing and anywhere it is found.”

Ramer’s apology was swiftly rejected by some. 

“This is insulting to Black people,” Beverly Bain, with the No Pride in Policing coalition told the interim chief at the news conference, noting that Black people have called for years for police to stop treating them unfairly.

“Chief Ramer, we do not accept your apology.” 

The statistics released Wednesday relate to incidents that took place in 2020. 

Though they made up about 10 per cent of the city’s population that year, the figures show Black people faced 22.6 per cent of police enforcement action, which includes arrests, provincial offences tickets, cautions and diversions. 

At the same time, 39.4 per cent of use of force incidents involved Black people, the data show.   

The statistics, which also include data on race and strip searches, are the first to be released under the Toronto Police Service’s race-based data policy. The policy was implemented in 2019 following several reports on race and policing as well as provincial legislation requiring several public sectors to collect such information.  

There were 949 use of force incidents involving 1,224 people in 2020, according to the report. Researchers were able to link use-of-force reports – which include information on “perceived race” – to police incident reports for 889 of them to get more detail. 

In 371 incidents, a police firearm was pointed at someone, and in four, it was fired. Two incidents led to fatal injuries. 

The data show differences in enforcement, use of force and strip searches across several racialized groups. 

Middle Eastern people were also overrepresented when it came to enforcement and use of force, while other groups – such as Latino and East and Southeast Asian residents – experienced less enforcement in comparison to their representation in the population but saw more use of force when they did interact with police. 

Indigenous people faced more enforcement, but proportionately slightly less use of force in those interactions, according to the data. 

White people, who represented roughly 46 per cent of Toronto’s population in 2020, faced proportionately less enforcement and less use of force. 

East or Southeast Asian people were 1.6 times more likely than white people to have a gun pointed at them, and South Asian people were twice as likely. 

Black people were 1.5 times more likely than white people to have a gun pointed at them when they were perceived to have a weapon and 2.3 times more likely when no weapon was perceived, the data show. In both those situations, white people were more likely than Black people to face lower levels of force. 

The statistics also show that racial differences in use of force remained even after taking into account what police were initially called to investigate and what the main offence turned out to be. 

For many racialized groups, the police divisions in which they experienced the highest rates of use of force were also the ones in which they made up a smaller proportion of the population, the findings show. 

Indigenous, Black and white residents also were also strip searched disproportionately compared with how many of them were arrested. Arrests involving Black and white people were still more likely to result in strip searches in 2021, after new rules on such searches took effect, the data show. 

However, the overall number of strip searches plummeted in October 2020 after Toronto police enacted the new rules. which require strip searches and frisking to be recorded on video and audio. Before the changes, just over 27 per cent of arrests led to strip searches; afterwards, just under five per cent did. 

Toronto police have laid out 38 recommendations meant to address the findings, which they say are part of a broader effort to “reduce disparate outcomes.” 

These include engaging with Black, Indigenous and racialized communities to understand the data and discuss a path forward; implementing a mandatory review of body-worn camera footage for all use-of-force incidents; and requiring officers on probation during their first year of service to debrief with supervisors after use of force incidents.  

Police also say they will broaden their analysis in the next phase to include arrests, apprehensions and diversions. Collection of that data began in January of last year. 

The provincial government began collecting race-based data related to use of force from police services in 2020, three years after passing legislation that required several public sectors to collect data on race. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2022.

Feature image – Toronto Police Chief James Ramer attends a news conference at Toronto Police headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young.