A new era in policing in Toronto?

By Patrick Hunter Thursday April 23 2015 in Opinion
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Congratulations to Mark Saunders on being named Chief of the Toronto Police Service (TPS). You, sir, have a very arduous task ahead of you and I sincerely hope that, at the end of the day, you will have accomplished that task with dignity.

Among other things, that task includes balancing the needs of protecting the residents of this city through excellent policing and a section of the community that has had an historic tension-filled relationship with the police. I am certain that you know this. As someone of African descent, you should be very much aware of that tension, perhaps more so than any of your predecessors. It does not, by any means, mean that your job will be easier. Far from it. It probably makes it harder.

Your immediate predecessor, Chief William Blair, at the outset, went one step better than his predecessor, Julian Fantino, in acknowledging that there was racial profiling in the TPS. “Carding”, a form of racial profiling as it is practiced, is one of the big issues of the day. It is an issue, as has been pointed out, because young people of African descent are the most “carded” residents of this city. That says to me that the police see young men of African descent as having the most criminal intent. It is therefore necessary that a system to keep track of these young men be emplaced.

Last Thursday, the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) decided to support a policy that, on revision by the out-going chief, dropped the requirement of officers telling individuals who are not suspect, and with whom they have engaged, that they have a right to discontinue the conversation if they so wish. And, there were other provisions dropped which would have served, in theory anyway, to lessen the negativity around police/community engagement.

I am still trying to understand why it was necessary to approve this policy, in that condition, on the verge of announcing the appointment of a new chief of police. At the very least, and I suspect that the much lauded “Robert’s Rules of Order” would have allowed it, that a decision on this matter be tabled until the new chief has had a go at it.

One can only surmise that in view of the likelihood that it would be a Black person appointed a chief, it would be best to lock him into a policy on which he may have a dissenting view, than to give him an option.

Mayor John Tory, following the approval vote, was given a chance to say why he supports the revised policy. As an influential member of the Board, it was good to hear his reasoning behind his supporting vote. Among other things, one of Mayor Tory’s reasons was the lack of a current policy. It is better to have something in place now, which has been at an impasse for so long, than not have a policy. (I hope I am paraphrasing him accurately. That is what I heard.)

Tory also pointed out that he realized that his children would probably not receive the same treatment, or carded the same way.

Much has been said, particularly on social media, about Tory’s support of the revised policy. In a nutshell, his support is seen as betrayal of the Black community that supported his mayoralty bid.

Let me say this to my fellow African Canadians: No one realizes more than I how trusting we are of people who make promises that they will make our community a better place. We are a very trusting people, and more often than not, we have been betrayed – over and over again. Just look at any scenario you choose and you will see that trail of betrayal.

Fundamentally, we still live in a society where White supremacy still dominates. Don’t go looking for the obvious signs – racial hatred signs painted on building or White power marches, although some of these still exist. No, its good old-fashioned paternalism – we know what is best for you. Let’s live with this for now, but change will come, I promise you.

So, Tory is saying: Look, we don’t have a policy now. Let’s put one in place, assess for a while, then we can make changes down the road. And, like others before him, he will probably get away with it. How many of us will remember this when he is up for re-election?

Anyway, Chief–designate Saunders will need our support – not blindly – but constructively as he takes on his new role. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt, and as he promises, that he will engage with the community. There will be a lot of eyes watching – police officers and their association; the community as a whole, and the Black community specifically; politicians and, of course, the Board.

Email: patrick.hunter11@gmail.com / Twitter: @pghntr

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