The release of previously unseen Toronto police statistics showing disproportionate enforcement and use of force against Black residents is renewing calls to defund the police, two years after city council voted against such a proposal.
Following the data’s publication Wednesday, several anti-racism groups and civil rights advocates said community safety would be better achieved by redirecting police funding to social supports and services.
Desmond Cole, with the No Pride in Policing Coalition, said that instead of assurances that police will do better in the future, the group has been seeking a “political solution” from Toronto’s mayor and council, who are facing a municipal election in the fall.
Defunding, and eventually abolishing, police would help ensure “they can’t hurt us like this anymore,” he said.
“We didn’t need people with guns and Tasers and body armour and vests engaging in the kind of behaviour that’s in this report … and what this report should be talking about is that we still don’t need any of those things,” he said.
Moya Teku, executive director of the Black Legal Action Centre, said police continue to fail to serve and protect Black people “and yet, year after year, all levels of government continue to pour money into police services.”
“The solution is not to provide the police with more money for body scanners, or training,” Teku said in a statement Wednesday. “It is to de-task the police and to redirect funding into those services that will actually protect and serve and increase the public safety of Black people.”
Abby Deshman, director of criminal justice for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said police “need to step back, and make room for social service supports and civilian led crisis interventions.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory’s office said Thursday that he believes in “investing in eliminating systemic racism in the Toronto Police Service” and has supported recent reforms, including those that led to the collection and release of the race-based data.
“But the mayor has been very clear that he believes that we cannot shortchange public safety given that we hear from communities across the city which are in fact asking for additional investment in police resources, particularly in initiatives such as neighbourhood policing,” his office said in a statement.
“The mayor will continue to strongly support policing reforms which will rebuild trust. He will continue to carefully consider which tasks might be better carried out by non-police organizations and will seek corresponding budget changes. And while he will continue to oversee prudent financial management of all resources allocated for policing, he does not support the significant, often arbitrary, reductions advocated by some.”
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In 2020, two Toronto councillors introduced a motion to cut the force’s budget by 10 per cent — about $107 million — and use that money for community services.
The motion was rejected in favour of a series of reforms proposed by the mayor, which included anti-racism measures and the implementation of body-worn cameras.
The move followed multiple protests that saw thousands of people flock to Toronto streets over several weeks to demand changes to policing.
The protests were part of a global response to the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis. They also came weeks after the death in Toronto of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black woman who fell from her balcony while police were in her home.
Sam Tecle, an assistant professor of sociology at Toronto Metropolitan University, said the public conversations on defunding police at that time were an important acknowledgment that police don’t represent safety for racialized people and other historically marginalized groups.
Defunding, and ultimately abolishing police is asking people to engage in a “total reimagining” of society, he said, noting many communities have already, out of necessity, put in place systems to keep themselves safe without calling police.
“That idea of abolishing the police has never wavered in many of us,” Tecle said. “Every time that the police force puts on this kind of dog and pony show, it reignites the debate.”
On Wednesday, Toronto police released statistics that show Black people in the city faced a disproportionate amount of police enforcement and use of force in 2020 and were more likely to have an officer point a gun at them — whether perceived as armed or unarmed — than white people in the same situation.
Middle Eastern people were also overrepresented when it came to enforcement and use of force, according to the report. Latino and East and Southeast Asian residents, meanwhile, experienced less enforcement in comparison to their representation in the population but saw more use of force when they did interact with police.
There were also racial differences in strip searches, with Indigenous, Black and white residents searched disproportionately compared with how many of them were arrested.
The numbers were the first to be released under the force’s race-based data policy, which was adopted in 2019 after the provincial government passed legislation requiring several public sectors to collect such information. It also followed several reports on race and policing.
Toronto’s interim police chief, James Ramer, apologized to the city’s Black residents Wednesday as the statistics were published, saying the force needs to do better.
During his news conference, Ramer was asked about the calls to defund police and whether the force would consider offloading some services to community groups.
“When we hear that discussion, what … the community’s talking about is reform and it’s talking about modernization of the police service,” Ramer replied.
“The reality is that we are engaged in a number of processes in terms of alternate service delivery and we want to be engaged in that,” he said, pointing to what he deemed “great advancements” in diverting calls that come into the police call centre.