A new report prepared by the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers confirms what Ontario’s Black population has been feeling for decades: racism and racial bias exists in the criminal justice system, and little has been done to correct it.
According to the report, “the perception of anti-Black discrimination within policing has remained constant among Black Toronto residents” for the past 25 years. In fact, little has been done to quash racial disparities when it comes to police tactics, such as stopping a Black person, questioning them and searching them.
Toronto-based lawyer and association president Raphael Tachie said it’s both “sad and discouraging” to read nothing has changed.
“It also is an imperative. It’s a call to action for us,” Tachie said.
In 2019, the organization partnered with researchers at the University of Toronto to conduct a new round of research examining public perceptions and experiences of racialized and white Canadians within Ontario’s criminal justice system. Similar research had been done in 1994 and 2007.
Released on Thursday, the report found the Black community’s views of law enforcement and the criminal justice system have remained consistent since 1994.
Criminology professor Scot Wortley, who was part of the research team behind both of the previous surveys, said the Black community’s perception of anti-Black racism in the system has not changed: It’s as much of an issue now as it was in the 1990s.
“In each case, about 80 per cent of the Black population expressed that they viewed anti-Black racism or discrimination within policing … as a problem within Canada, and that’s something they experienced or faced in their day-to-day lives,” Wortleysaid.
Global News reached out to the Toronto police who provided an email statement: “While we have not had an opportunity to review the report in its entirety we can say that, as a police service, our efforts at evolving as an organization started several years ago and continue today.”
The email went on to give examples of what the organization is doing to evolve, including “continuing with its implementation of race-based data collection.”
Black people express 'greater distrust' of the system
The survey was conducted online by Environics Research between May 16 and July 29, 2019. All 1,450 participants reside in the Greater Toronto Area and self-identified as being from three racial groups: 450 identified as Black, 450 as Asian (including Chinese, Korean and Japanese) and 550 as white/Caucasian.
The survey covers everything from perceptions of crime and bias in the criminal justice system to experiences with the police “street checks” in multiple jurisdictions across the GTA.
Black and Asian respondents held a more negative view of police and perceived a higher level of police bias.
Most of the white and Asian respondents agreed that anti-Black racism in policing is “particularly widespread” and that Black people receive unfair treatment in the criminal justice system. For example, 48.9 per cent of white respondents and 56 per cent of Asian respondents believe a Black person is more likely to receive a longer jail sentence.
Across all races, men were more often subject to street checks, but at 40.4 per cent, Black people still outnumbered them all. That’s compared to only 24.7 per cent of white and 24.9 per cent of Asian respondents.
“There is a growing feeling that the bias may extend from the police and into other sectors within the criminal justice system and that itself deserves future research attention,” Wortley said.
'It's been disappointing for me,' Black law student says
Ryerson University student Ish Aderonmu knows there’s still a lot more work to be done.
Formerly incarcerated, he is now pursuing a law degree in Toronto. Even after last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, he’s still concerned much of what is being said and done now by police and the government is surface-level.
“You can have all the diversity initiatives you want but, if it’s just one person (who gets it), they’re just fighting against 10 people who don’t get it,” Aderonmu said.
Last September, Aderonmu resigned from the board of directors at the John Howard Society of Toronto, a non-profit that advocates for individuals exiting the criminal justice system and helps them reintegrate into the community, following allegations of anti-Black racism and mismanagement,as reported by the Toronto Star. John Howard Society denied the allegations, though they were the subject of a human rights complaint.
Aderonmu said his experience there crystalized for him how deep systemic racism within the criminal justice system — and in Canada — goes.
“It’s been disappointing for me,” he said. “Even if you do get some of the right people in the right places, it can be challenging being the only one and being put in positions where it’s either growth or your integrity.”
Global News reached out to the society and was put into contact with Suzanne Lajambe, one of three acting executive directors.
“There is currently an active investigation into allegations of anti-Black racism and mismanagement,” Lajambe told Global News. “The investigation is being done by an external third party, and John Howard Society (of Toronto) anticipates the investigation to be completed by March.”
'More Black faces' in places of power
Wortley said he’s seen more progress in the last two years than he has in the last 23.
But he said he’s also seen well-meaning initiatives collapse, not bearing the fruit they should have. He said too much of what’s been developed is “window-dressing.”
“(It) gives the illusion that the sector is dealing with these issues without really developing rules, regulations and accountability measures that are enforceable, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we haven’t seen the change in attitude towards the justice system that we would like to see,” he said.
Wortley is hopeful the association’s report will help to extend the scrutiny on police further into the justice system.
“I hope that we can finally turn the corner on this issue and create the kind of social and political atmosphere where we can actually produce change.”