By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
Now we know why Police Chief Bill Blair has taken so long to set out the procedures for the new policy the Toronto Police Service Board instructed him to do almost a year ago. He didn’t want to do it.
When some members of the community said Blair was dragging his feet on this issue, they were right. Those of us who believed him, trusted that he would do the right thing, we were the fools.
With the procedures Blair presented at a media conference last week police officers are not only going to be able to continue the practice of carding, they are going to be able to do so with much fewer restraints.
Police officers will be allowed to continue the practice we know as carding by its new name, Community Engagement. Instead of ending the practice of police arbitrarily stopping people on the street, mostly Black people and mostly Black young men, as members of the community most impacted by this has been urging, Blair and the board dug in their heels.
Police officers will be allowed to stop anyone they choose. (The actual wording is: In exercising his or her discretion, the Service member shall consider the potential value of initiating or recording a contact versus the potential value of the individual’s right to be left alone). In exercising his or her discretion.
Officers also won’t have to record all the information they used to gather before. For example, they wouldn’t want to know if the parents of a youth they stopped are married. Or the names of their friends. Where they were born. Stuff like that. “Information from a Community Engagement will lead to the collection of material personal information only.”
That “personal information only” will not include race. The police officer will no longer list the race of the person stopped and carded.
What that simply means is that when the Toronto Star’s investigative reporters (or anyone else) go through the police files in a couple of years to see how this new policy has impacted the community, they won’t be able to tell how many Blacks have been carded, unless, of course, there are a lot of young men carded named Jamal.
Blair and the board have found a way to protect the force from charges of racial profiling while making us think they are doing us a solid.
Why would police officers need to “gather and retain material information” on people who volunteer to stop and chat with them; people who legally do not have to speak with them?
This is not to be confused with the legitimate police practice of stopping and questioning people in the course of the investigation of a crime or the investigation of persons who might be deemed to be in the process of committing a crime or who may have knowledge of a crime that has been committed or might be about to be committed. No law-abiding citizen would have a problem with that.
Whatever information collected during this “engagement” with a youth (or other community member) will go before a superior officer who will review the “Community Engagement Report” (that is the full name) to see if there is information that shouldn’t be included and, if found, send it back for correction.
With all this talk about engaging the community, Blair – and police in general – do not want to stop carding, especially young Black men, because they inherently believe that all or most young Black men are potential criminals. And that, if not now, sometime in the future, they most likely will come to the attention of the police. So, police officers will continue to be free to harass innocent Black youth. At their discretion, of course. They will continue to gather information on these young men and save it in a database just in case they one day commit a crime.
Under Blair’s new procedures police officers will no longer have to provide receipts to people they stop and question. The old board policy mandated that officers must provide these receipts so that people stopped and questioned would know why they were stopped and have a record of the encounter. And it would help to track any inappropriate use of the procedure.
Now police officers will only be required to provide a business card to people they stop if one is requested.
Police officers don’t like the idea of telling people they don’t have to speak with them. Now, they don’t have to.
In rejecting the requirement for police officers to tell people they stop just to “engage” with that they don’t have to speak with them, Blair has rejected an important element of the policy of the old board. While people being stopped for a chat still do not have to participate in the conversation and do have the right to walk away, can you imagine a young Black man being stopped “for a chat” by police officers late at night saying that he has chosen not to speak with them?
When someone is arrested, police have to tell them they don’t have to speak with them without a lawyer present. Why would it be so hard for an officer to say to someone: “Hi, can we have a chat? We are working in the neighbourhood and just want to see how residents feel things are going. Of course, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, but we will really appreciate hearing your viewpoint.”
Or, if they stop a young man walking home at night: “Hi, are you O.K.? It’s kind of late. Just coming from work? Hey, you don’t have to speak with us if you don’t want to but we just want to make sure you are all right.”
Under Blair’s new policy, someone who is suspected of committing a crime will have more rights that an innocent young man going about his legitimate business because, while the suspected criminal must be told he doesn’t have to speak to the police without legal counsel, the innocent youth or other community member will not be so advised.
Here is a statement that needs a second look: “All Community Engagement scenarios cannot be anticipated and there are circumstances…that may not always apply, however, the following are some key elements for consideration (my italics) for most interactions.”
And it goes on to list Professionalism, Communication, Respect Rights and Accessibility with some explanation under each sub-head.
For consideration? Is being professional or respecting the rights of citizens also now “at the discretion of” the individual police officer?
Mayor John Tory and the new board brought in a retired judge as arbitrator to help get the new procedures in place because of Blair’s intransigence. The judge met behind closed doors with whoever he felt he needed to meet with but I am not aware of him ever meeting with anyone from our community – the aggrieved parties. If this was arbitration, shouldn’t all impacted parties have been represented, including representatives from our community?
Blair, Tory and the judge have done us and this city no favours. But they will get away with it because, thanks to Tory, I don’t think the new board will have the commitment to (or stomach for) the needed oversight of the police.
One of the first things Tory did after becoming mayor was to remove Councillor Michael Thompson from the police board. That was significant. Thompson was seen as a thorn in Blair’s side only because he asked the difficult questions and demanded answers from the chief as was his right as a board member. He was supported by a majority of the seven-member board. Thompson, board chair Alok Mukherjee, Councillor Frances Nunziata (who Tory also removed from the board) and Councillor Michael Del Grande who quit city hall (and his seat on the board) to run successfully for the Toronto Catholic District School Board where he is now the chair, were serious about police oversight and held the chief to account.
Now, with Tory, who is besties with Blair, on the board and Mukherjee on his way out, not only is the board reverting to the old days of being a toothless, lapdog board, the service itself seems on the verge of taking a huge backwards step. Watch to see the board, under Tory’s leadership, accept Blair’s procedures without question.
And so many of us voted for and supported this guy.
Speaking of which, word is that Blair might be running for the Liberals in the upcoming federal election. Good luck with that.