By TOM GODFREY
The racial profiling and carding of Blacks by Toronto Police is still on the mind of many of us in the community as the annual Caribbean Carnival takes to the streets.
Many are breathing a sigh of relief that officers now have an anti-carding policy to follow in conducting street checks and must provide a reason before they pull over someone.
Many festival-goers in the past have complained about being stopped or singled out by police for no reason during the July 8 to August 3 festival, that is estimated to attract about one million revellers to the parade route on Lake Shore Blvd.
Some of us have had encounters with officers working at the parade who didn’t care for the 47-year history of the street festival and were only there for the overtime pay.
It was only months ago that emotions ran high as it surfaced that Blacks were being profiled and carded by police more than other nationalities. Members of our community were rightly upset that their data were being recorded for future investigations.
That forced the Toronto Police Services Board last April to adopt the policy, in which citizens are provided a receipt of their encounter with officers and can take action against the cop if they felt they were hard done by.
Police said there has been a decrease in complaints filed against officers since the policy took effect.
Our community requires and welcomes police at its events to establish a dialogue, maintain peace, law and order. At the same time, revellers do not want to be hassled by a few power-tripping cops who feel out of place in the sea of Black faces.
The annual festival which was launched at City Hall last week, is one of the largest such celebrations in the world and pumps millions of dollars into the Toronto economy. Just try booking a hotel room during the weekend of the parade.
Mind you, there has to be a beefed up presence of officers and private security guards since the parade is a massive event with dozens of floats and there have been shootings in the past, including one that left a British nurse paralyzed.
It took some time for the Board to recognize the community was unhappy with the status quo and they took action to fix things, to give them credit.
In another first, the Board is also conducting a survey of police customer service of residents in the Jane & Finch area patrolled by 31 Division. The study is being well-received by the community.
It is an excellent move by the Board since the area has long been a source of complaints against police due to the aggressive behaviour of TAVIS officers working to decrease robberies and gun crimes.
The results of the survey will be used by the force to increase its relationship with the struggling community.
There is no doubt that the Board, under Chair Alok Mukherjee, has relieved a lot of stress that was felt in the community by sending a firm message to front-line officers that diversity is here to stay and they better get on board.
The force said police-reported crime dropped five per cent in Toronto for the lowest level since 1972 and Toronto is ranked as the third safest city, following Quebec City and Guelph, according to a Statistics Canada survey.
Still, many others believe the force is paying lip service with its street checks policy and will issue more traffic tickets instead for alleged crimes as a reason for encounters with members of the Black community.
Some Toronto lawyers have been working hard to prepare a $200 million class action lawsuit against the Board for alleged racial profiling that is proceeding before the courts.
The Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) has also filed a $125 million lawsuit against Peel Regional Police for similar allegations.
Organizers of the lawsuits are holding a follow-up meeting to discuss the cases and include possible victims next week at Ryerson University.
The meeting will take place on July 22 at Eric Palin Hall from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.