By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
Why would Toronto Mayor, John Tory, a member of the Toronto Police Service Board, and ostensibly the one calling the play on the board these days, approve a policy that would give police officers wider scope to target, humiliate and possible criminalize innocent Black youth?
The board last week voted to approve a watered-down and gutted version of a policy that was approved by a previous board a year ago which would have provided some protections for people stopped by police who were not in the process of committing a crime, suspected of committing a crime or possibly having knowledge of a crime. In other words, a policy aimed at protecting the rights of individuals when cops went on a fishing expedition, stopping and questioning innocent people.
For almost a year, Police Chief Bill Blair ignored the board’s request to provide the procedures to implement its April 2014 policy. He refused to enact the policy that would have police officers tell people they arbitrarily stopped (without just cause) that they didn’t have to speak with them as the board demanded. The board had also instructed that police must issue a receipt detailing the reason for the stop and the information collected. Blair also refused to comply.
(It is interesting that Blair has protested very strongly to suggestions that he was insubordinate – and Tory has backed him up on this – to the board, his employer.)
The board’s decision to accept Blair’s version of the policy which removed the requirement for police officers to tell people they stopped without just cause that they didn’t have to speak with them; to provide a business card (if asked) instead of a receipt with information on the encounter and to allow police officers wider scope to engage in what has come to be known as carding came as a huge shock to members of the Black community.
Scores of deputations – some from organizations and others from concerned members of the community – were made during several meetings with the board, to no avail. Not one voice, not one word, not one plea resonated with the board since Tory took his seat on it.
Blair didn’t want the 2014 policy approved; the police community didn’t want it approved and Tory made sure it wasn’t approved. It didn’t matter what the community wanted.
And what did the community want?
A review of documentation from carding in the police database by the Toronto Star a couple years ago discovered that Blacks and people with brown skin were much more likely to be stopped and questioned by police than Whites. These findings supported what members of our community have always known and that is that police practiced racial profiling of Blacks.
The community wanted it stopped.
Everyone understands that part of the job of policing involves stopping and questioning people who police might have reason to believe could assist in a criminal investigation. What was abhorrent was to find that police were targeting Black people who were just going about their legitimate, innocent business, including the youth.
The board, in April 2014, devised a policy with the aim of protecting innocent people, not necessarily from being stopped, but to provide them with certain protections if they are. And one of those protections was to have police officers tell the individual stopped that he or she didn’t have to speak with them and could just walk away.
That is one of the things Blair couldn’t accept. Police officers don’t want to have to tell people they don’t have to speak with them even if they are not doing anything wrong.
As soon as Tory, who is a close friend to Blair, became mayor, he set about dismantling the board that established that policy. First, he got rid of one of Blair’s most vocal critics, Jamaican-born councillor Michael Thompson, the only Black member of the board. And he replaced two other councillors who voted with Thompson and chair Alok Mukherjee, one of whom left on his own accord, and placed himself on the board.
It was just a matter of time.
The thing is, though, if carding is wrong, why did we go along with the board’s 2014 compromise in the first place? Why did we accept a policy which would allow police to stop and question our youth and document information that could come back to hurt them later on when they could be deemed “known to police” because of the documentation showing that they were stopped, some of them several times, by police during these carding encounters?
Tory and Blair might have done us a favour by being so inflexible. They not only opened our eyes to how they truly think about us, they opened our eyes to the fact that we were being lulled into complacency with a policy that claimed to be in our interests but actually was not.
By the way, thanks to Tory, carding now has the blessing of the Toronto Police Service Board, the civilian oversight board which is supposed to protect the public’s interest.
Carding is wrong – in either of its forms, the old board’s or Blair’s. And it must end. Period!