Black people disproportionately stopped, searched by Toronto police: report

Racism in Toronto police?

A new report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission has found Black people in Toronto are disproportionately stopped and searched by police despite the Ontario government's efforts to regulate so-called "street checks."

The commission's final report on anti-Black racism within the Toronto Police Service, released today, says that while official street checks appear to have been effectively eliminated, Black people still report being stopped and searched at a much higher rate than people from other racial groups.

It points 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.

The report says part of the problem is the existence of "significant gaps" in the provincial regulations and Toronto police policies and procedures that govern officers' interactions with the public, particularly when it comes to stops and searches.

For one thing, it says police procedures don't "adequately restrict officers' discretion" when it comes to stopping people in "non-arrest circumstances," or give enough guidance on when searches are appropriate.

The report also says Toronto police collected and retained "significant personal data" through street checks before the provincial rules took effect, which it says should be destroyed unless the data is needed for investigative purposes.

The commission, whose findings are not legally binding, has issued more than 100 recommendations to improve police interactions with Black communities.

"I am cautiously optimistic that, if adopted, the OHRC's recommendations will help reduce systemic racism, improve public transparency and police oversight, and begin to foster a relationship of trust between the TPS and Toronto’s Black communities," Dr Scot Wortley, a professor of criminology and socio-legal studies at the University of Toronto who provided analysis for the report, wrote in a statement.

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

The 2020 report found that Black people were more likely than others to be arrested, charged, over-charged, struck, shot or killed by Toronto police.

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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