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The Toronto Police Services headquarters.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s privacy commissioner says the law requiring police services to collect race-based data does not prevent them from using that information to assess and discipline individual officers.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has issued a statement to “clarify” comments made by Toronto’s interim police chief last week as the service released new data that show Black and racialized residents face disproportionate use of force.

At the time, interim Chief James Ramer said the data couldn’t be used to investigate the actions of individual officers because the Anti-Racism Act and the privacy commissioner require them to be anonymized.

Chief Ramer also said there were existing processes, such as internal investigations and the courts, to deal with the actions of individual officers, and that the force does not tolerate “overt racism.”

In its statement, the commissioner’s office says it has not indicated that the laws in place prevent police from using the data to “inform the supervision, training and discipline of its police officers.”

It says the laws are designed to “protect people’s personal information rather than information that identifies an individual in a business, professional or official capacity.”

The report on race-based data released last week was being presented to the Toronto Police Services Board Wednesday.

The board’s policy on race-based data was adopted in 2019 after the provincial government passed the Anti-Racism Act, which requires several public sectors to collect such information.

At the time, the board said the data would not be used to identify specific officers or manage their performance, but to “identify trends that contribute to professional development and organizational change.”

Chief Ramer confirmed Wednesday that the privacy commissioner’s office did not provide advice related to the rule restricting the use of race-based data to systemic issues.

But he said the force’s data analysis was “built to comply with the board’s policy, and thus it simply cannot be used for individual performance issues.”

The interim chief apologized to the city’s Black and racialized residents last week as the statistics were published, saying the force needs to do better.

Many advocates and community members have said the report only confirms what Black and racialized people have been saying for decades.

The numbers 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.

The report also shows Middle Eastern people were overrepresented when it came to enforcement and use of force, while Latino and East and Southeast Asian residents experienced less enforcement compared with 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.

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