By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
In its efforts to respond to the serious concerns of the community regarding such issues as carding in particular and policing in general, the Toronto Police Services Board formulated a policy on community contacts and mandated Police Chief Bill Blair to make it operational.
That was back in May last year.
Blair was supposed to come back to the board with the procedures to implement the policy. Now, after almost a year, and with Blair’s term as chief coming to an end with him expected to leave office in April, members of the community can be forgiven for thinking that he has deliberately dragged his heels on this to run out the clock, as it were.
Not so, he told me recently, promising not to leave this matter unresolved for his successor.
But that was a couple days before it was announced that he had called in a retired judge to arbitrate issues that are still pending.
I am not happy with that. I think the chief is looking for cover. I think there are some things that he can’t bring himself to do and is unwilling to say so and is hoping the judge will do it for him.
And that would be a pity. This chief has brought Canada’s largest municipal police force so far in his 10 years at the top. This would have been his crowning glory. It still could be.
But, if I am right, and I hope that I am not, we are not going to be very happy with the outcome of this arbitration.
So, what has the board asked the chief to do and what is it that the chief has been dragging his heels on doing?
In its preamble the board says that it “seeks to ensure that there is a proactive rights-based approach to the way in which members of the Toronto Police Service interact with members of the public. Such interaction is fundamental to community-based policing.”
It continues: Police officers “must get to know the neighbourhoods they serve and they must be able to enter into conversations with residents of these neighbourhoods in order to provide effective service.”
What’s wrong with that?
Here is a statement that needs special attention: Police officers “must be able also to gather and retain legitimate information. However, they must do so, and be trained and supervised to do so, within a clear framework, following an explicit definition of public safety, and in strict accordance with procedures that support this policy.”
What members of the community have been most angry about is the practice of some police officers to stop, question and document mostly Black young men in a manner that seemed to be arbitrary, as many of the youth were stopped and documented in circumstances that would not under normal circumstances seem to warrant police scrutiny. In other words, they were stopped while going about their legitimate business. The only common factor was the colour of their skin. This is what has come to be known as carding.
There are those in our community who want this practice of carding to end completely. And I agree that what I just described as carding is obnoxious, racist and has no place in policing in this city and must end.
The police, on the other hand, argue that the stopping and questioning of people is an important part of policing. And, I also agree. As long as it is done in a professional manner as detailed by the board.
Read the paragraph again. It allows for police officers to stop and question people to “gather and retain legitimate information”. But there is a procedure which is spelled out for such interactions. “…they must do so, and be trained and supervised to do so, within a clear framework, following an explicit definition of public safety, and in strict accordance with procedures that support this policy.”
A key phrase there also is: “following an explicit definition of public safety”.
So, the board isn’t saying that police officers shouldn’t stop anyone, just that when they stop someone they should have good reason to do so and follow guidelines established by the board and operationalized by the chief.
Here are some of the objectives of the board’s policy.
*Improve police-community interactions and eliminate the collection, retention, use and disclosure of irrelevant personal information;
*Identify the circumstances in which it is appropriate to initiate a Contact or create a CSN (Community Safety Note);
*Eliminate discrimination from Contacts;
*Improve community confidence in the Service’s ability to provide non-biased policing;
*Ensure the provision of effective training on how to conduct Contacts in a way that promotes community trust:
To set this policy in motion, the chief was mandated to establish procedures that:
*Minimize the potential negative effects of Contacts on the community;
*Reflect the goal of police legitimacy by ensuring Contacts are conducted in the spirit of trust building with the community and are directed toward effective policing; and to
*Ensure compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“generally and, in particular…protection against arbitrary detention and the…right to equal treatment under the law”); the Ontario Human Rights Code (“generally and, in particular…freedom from discrimination based on race, place of origin, age, colour, ethnic origin, gender identity or gender expression”) and with the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
There are those who like the force (or Service) just the way it is. There are those who already think it has changed too much. But, the old thinking and the old way of doing things are not working and have not been working for a long time. We can’t go on like this if we truly want this service to be the best it can be.
Blair has a chance to do something really important here. What the board is calling for is well-thought-out and fair both to the community and to the police.
I hope he can see this. I hope he can understand that a lot is riding on the decisions he makes over the next couple of weeks.