By TOM GODFREY
Some community leaders say they’re disappointed by a “watered-down” policy to stop racial profiling and carding that was unveiled by the Toronto Police Services Board last week.
The Community Engagements Policy was announced on March 27 by Chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee, Chief Bill Blair and Mayor John Tory at police headquarters.
The Board held a special meeting this week to adopt the policy that warns the force’s 5,600 officers not to single out people based on their race, age, colour, gender and a number of other factors.
Officers must decide if there is a risk to the community when pulling over motorists or engaging the public.
The force last January suspended the practice of profiling members of the community in which young Black men from at-risk communities were arbitrarily stopped and interviewed, with one of the most targeted areas being the Jane and Finch neighbourhood.
The young men were also carded, which means their personal information was documented and placed in a police database for further reference even when the stops showed that they did nothing wrong.
Blair assured there would be guidelines on the training for his officers.
“We recognized we had to provide officers with right direction and proper training to build positive, trusting relationships with the people,” he said. “Racial profiling is not tolerated in the police service. It’s unacceptable.”
Tory said he was determined to change the way policing was conducted in Toronto.
“It is not right to have sectors of some communities living in fear and distrust of police,” he said. “Our diversity is an envy of the world and it is a challenge that we have to upkeep.”
Dr. Mukherjee said the new policy is “a good thing for the community.
“These principles are not just a nice statement, they are guidelines,” Mukherjee told Share. “They become a direction to the front line on how officers will interact with members of the community in non-arrest, non-detention situations.”
He said the policy includes oversight by the Board, public reporting, supervision and training.
“It should help both the officers and the public to interact in an atmosphere of trust,” said Mukherjee. “This is an evolving process and if, and as necessary, the Board will have the ability to make any needed changes.”
The new policy has activists in the community shaking their heads in disbelief.
Kingsley Gilliam of the Black Action Defense Committee said he was horrified by the revised guidelines.
“I am absolutely appalled and horrified by some aspects of the guidelines and by the events that led to this revised, watered down version of the policy,” he told Share.
Gilliam said the policy infringes on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and an appeal will be launched.
“This is in clear violation of the rights protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he said. “These are hollow, meaningless words.”
Gilliam said the Board in approving the draft policy will surrender its role as employer and oversight responsibilities to the chief.
“This clearly shows who is the boss,” he said. “The police chief, not the board.”
Lawyer Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, who has filed a class action lawsuit against police for alleged racial profiling, said he has many concerns.
“The new philosophy on carding and racial profiling goes a long way to alleviating a lot of my concerns,” Hamalengwa told Share. “The key concerns on carding remain.”
He said the catch-all phrase of “public safety concerns” is very worrying because all discretion, including carding and racial profiling, will be swept under this rug.
“Police officers who have been used to carding and racial profiling cannot all of a sudden retire from the use of their discretion,” Hamalengwa warned.
He said the most serious flaw to the new guidelines is a lack of remedies for those previously carded and racially profiled and whose cases are in the courtrooms or at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.