By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
Carding is racial profiling. Or the result of racial profiling. Or the result of racial profiling as it is practiced by some members of the Toronto Police Service.
When Police Chief Bill Blair announced early in his tenure as the head of the country’s largest municipal police force that racial profiling did exist, we thought it meant that he was going to do something about it.
The procedures he presented to the Toronto Police Service Board (TPSB) earlier this month which gave police officers wider range to card residents of this city than the board’s policy intended proves that he either doesn’t get it or he doesn’t care.
Or he does get it and he doesn’t care.
When the Toronto Star raised the lid on racial profiling by police a few years ago, it was based on its review of police data drawn from contact cards which showed Blacks and other people of colour were carded multiple times more than Whites.
It was the carding that revealed the racial profiling. Now Blair wants, not just to continue carding, but to allow police officers more discretion as to who, how and when they card. And, to add insult to injury, officers won’t have to list the race of those carded so there will be no paper trail to indicate the scope of racial profiling.
Blair’s new carding policy allows for racial profiling without the documentation.
What puzzles me is this. He is supposed to be leaving office in a couple of weeks. It won’t be his problem anymore. Why is he doing this? What is his game plan? Why does he want to leave such a mess for his successor?
I have said it before and I won’t walk it back now. Blair has done a lot of good during his tenure as the city’s top cop. I was proud of him. But here was an opportunity for him to do something transformational. A legacy that would have changed the way policing is done in this city; the way police and the community interacted. And it would have been an amazing end to an otherwise stellar career.
Police officers have the authority, the power, to stop, question, detain if necessary, people they suspect of wrongdoing or people who they feel might have information pertinent to an investigation. That is not what we are talking about here. That wouldn’t change. It shouldn’t. It can’t. It is enshrined in the Police Act. That authority is one of the tools police need to do their job. We get that.
Carding, or what they are now calling Community Engagement, is something quite different. It is not done as part of a police investigation. It just gives police officers the power to stop anyone they feel like stopping to question them and record the answers they receive together with the name of the individual even when that person is just going about their legitimate business. And, as the Star’s research has shown, police have traditionally focused more on Blacks and other people of colour for carding. That is racial profiling; it is racist and it is wrong.
And although the individual legally does not have to speak to the officer or provide any information, does anyone feel it is worth the hassle to refuse to speak to a police officer? Even if that officer is taking information from them which will remain in some police database for years to come and may even come back to hurt them one day?
This is not community engagement. It is intelligence gathering through racial profiling.
But Blair is O.K. with it and wants to give his officers more power to continue this practice.
If the members of the police board accept Blair’s proposed procedures as detailed in his latest report, then they should at least do the decent thing and rename it. Please don’t call it Community Engagement. You are empowering the police, not to engage us, which is a friendly interaction, but to harass us; to intimidate us; to destroy the spirit of our young people. You are driving a wedge between the police and our community that will undo a lot of good that has been accomplished by a lot of good people on both sides over the years.
Call it, if you will, Community Intelligence Gathering Reports, because that is what it is.
But you will own this, all of you. You will be remembered as the police board which sanctioned the racial profiling by police of a large segment of this city’s population.
Here’s my advice. Regardless of what tweaks Blair comes back with at this Thursday’s board meeting, it won’t be anywhere near to what the board has been asking him to do for the past year and which he has stubbornly refused to do. So, don’t accept any of it. Don’t accept his procedures. Thank him for his service, wish him well on his way out and tell him you will take this up again in a few months with the new chief once he gets settled it, whoever he is. (There are no women shortlisted.)
Should the board members accept Blair’s operational procedures which fall far short of what they required of him, they will not only appear weak, having caved in to the chief who is their employee, but it would set the tone for their relationship with the new chief who will have no reason to feel he has to follow any of the board’s directives.
I believe Mayor John Tory placing himself on the board when he did was a mistake and might even have placed him in a conflict of interest because of his very close friendship with Blair. He might have felt that his presence would have helped to calm things down. Now he should know better. His presence might only have helped to enable Blair to continue his obstinacy.
Tory and the other board members have to understand that they are the employers. In fact, they are currently in the process of hiring the new chief. They can’t allow the chief to continue to defy them. If they do, we might as well get rid of the entire board and leave the chief in charge.
And now that the experience with Blair is fresh in their minds, they should be careful in their choice of a new chief. They need to ensure the person they choose is someone who will work cooperatively with the board, take direction, give and take advice and help to move this service towards its better self.
It is time for big moves. Do the board members have what it takes to do what needs to be done?