By TOM GODFREY
Outgoing Chief Bill Blair dropped a bombshell last week in ordering his officers to stop carding members of the Black and visible minority communities.
The announcement sent a huge wave of relief to community members who were not expecting the news. If only the Chief would now put an end to racial profiling as well.
Agencies and community activists have been making deputations and recommendations to police and the Toronto Police Services Board for a long time to put an end to this practice that has dehumanized many of us for years.
I have talked to several front-line sergeants who claim they now rarely pull over some vehicles, or people, for street checks. The officers did not cite police policy for the lack of checks, but the abundance of paperwork involved, including the provision of a card with the officer’s name.
The officers claim that their work is being examined and scrutinized by supervisors to ensure the rights of residents are followed to the letter. No one wants to be the source of a complaint being filed against them by an irate citizen over street checks.
Young Blacks are among the majority of those being flagged for roadside checks. Once carded, their personal information are input into police databases for further use and can lead to their criminalization down the road.
Statistics have shown that Blacks are among those most likely to be profiled or carded by Toronto police officers compared to other nationalities.
Groups like the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Citizens Against Police Review and the Black Action Defense Committee have been on the frontlines in the fight against racial profiling and carding against Blacks in Toronto.
Activist Kingsley Gilliam, former Mayors Barbara Hall and John Sewell just last month made deputations against racial profiling to the Board, which has been under pressure to end the practice.
Chief Blair, who will be noted for his favourite maxim “do the right thing”, did the right thing this time around.
Blair’s office is not saying much about his plan, except to decree that the carding practice was suspended on January 1 and the matter will be put to the Board at a meeting next month.
The fight against racial profiling and carding has been a long one with many people and community groups becoming involved. People, White or Black, know the practice is unfair and can lead to further issues down the road. All they have to do is look at some of the anti-police sentiment in the U.S.
The Chief is a bright man and can see the writing on the wall. He is also making life easier for a new Chief who will be selected later this year. This is an emotional and divisive issue the incoming chief will have to deal with sooner or later.
The new police leader will also be stepping into the contentious issue of racial profiling, which is a hot-button issue in this city and also a priority for the force and board.
Citizens must realize that we own the cops. We hire them, pay their wages and set the policies that must reflect all citizens of every colour and creed. The issue of racial profiling has to be curbed or we will remain in the same stalemate that has existed for decades, where the community is not talking to police.
Our community must feel free and not intimidated to report incidents or call-in information to police to help in solving crimes.
We applaud the Chief for ending the practice of carding; but only after racial profiling has ended then can our caring community prosper and grow.