Race, Policing and Crime

By Kandia Aird

On October 30, 2002, University of Toronto students, professors and several distinguished members of the Toronto community gathered in a tightly packed classroom to discuss what may well be the most controversial issue affecting the Greater Toronto Area today.  The session, called 'Race, Policing and Crime', came at the heels of a provocative series of articles published in The Toronto Star that investigated the Toronto Police Force's use of racial profiling in apprehending and prosecuting alleged offenders.  In light of the highly charged reactions from both law enforcement officials and the community at large, the University of Toronto Law School seized the opportunity to host a forum for in depth discussion of the issues surrounding racial profiling and its impact on the Canadian justice system. 

David MitchellThe session, was sponsored by the Black Law Students Association in conjunction with the Students of Law for the Advancement of Minorities and the Special Committee on Diversity.   Chaired by Prof. Sujit Choudhury, guest speakers included Toronto Star journalist, Jim Rankin; staff lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, Marie Chen; President of the Association of Black Law Enforcers, David Mitchell and Toronto lawyer, Julian Falconer.

Jim Rankin began by discussing the data analysis methods employed by the Toronto Star investigative team.   The Star's analysis showed that blacks apprehended on simple drug possession charges were more likely to be taken to the police station than whites.  The analysis also suggested that black motorists were ticketed at much higher rates than whites - this was particularly true for those that fell into the young, black and male category.  There was also evidence to show that a disproportionate number of blacks were charged with violent crimes.

Marie Chen noted that police complaint services and human rights commissions have proved quite incapable of effectively dealing with this issue.  Ms. Chen cited caselaw, such as R v. Golden (2001 SCC 83), as successful examples of the use of the Canadian constitution as a basis for displaying the systemic impact of discriminatory practices.

David Mitchell gave an informative and powerful speech about police practices and the impact on the community.  He said more police officers should "self-check" themselves by asking,  "Why do I think, the way that I think, about what I see?"  He said that within the police force, when it comes to racial profiling, there is a significant gap between procedural theory and actual reality. 

Julian Falconer criticized the Toronto Chief of Police's decision, in reaction to the Star report, to call an inquiry into policing and race relations without consulting any of the well-respected community organisations who have extensive knowledge of this issue.  Falconer said this showed that the use of consultation on the part of the Toronto Police Force is simply a public relations gesture and not an action for which there exists any substantial regard. 

In the question and answer period following the speeches the issue was raised that the Star inquiry was not the first of its kind - in 1995 the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System produced data that supported the same findings made in the Star investigation.  One student candidly expressed her personal experiences with the problem of violence in the black community.  In her opinion it was quite apparent that the underlying and much ignored problem was that of poverty. 

Julian Falconer stated that for truly effective resolutions all parties should take steps to foster free and open debate of the issues.   While it is true that open debate leads to constructive solutions, when it comes to racial profiling, it remains to be seen if parties concerned are capable of making significant moves beyond what Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called 'the paralysis of analysis'.