Anti-racism activists are seizing on a new police study and urging officials to quickly stamp out "anti-black" attitudes in Toronto and beyond -- even as some police officers continue to insist "there is no systemic racism" lurking in the heart of the criminal-justice system.
Police in Kingston released an influential report this week that was intended to bring some clarity to the emotionally charged issue of racial profiling. But what is being touted as a smoking gun by various anti-racism groups is still being disputed by some police-union officials.
Kingston Police crunched the numbers and found that officers there are three times as likely to stop blacks as whites. Chief William Closs became tearful and apologetic as he presented the findings, the first of their kind in Canada.
Yet some officers in Toronto wonder what lessons Canada's largest, most diverse metropolis may have to learn from a city that has only 110,000 residents, 90 per cent of them white. Some lively debates are anticipated next week as top police officials from across the province meet privately to discuss the study at the Ontario Police College.
Toronto Police in particular have been wounded by allegations of racial profiling over the past few years. The city's police leaders say they will soon follow Kingston's lead and try out some form of race-based number-crunching.
Anti-racism activists said yesterday that would be a good first step, but it's a long march toward fairness.
"Blacks and aboriginals are overwhelmingly the subject of police stops," Karen Mock of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation said at a Toronto news conference. The Kingston study, she said, is proof positive of "anti-black racism" that exists across Canada.
She spoke with a half-dozen other advocates who said they regard the study as "overwhelming" evidence that "should put to rest once and for all the cynicism" about racial profiling and systemic racism by police.
They urged that video cameras be installed in cruisers and that forces do a better job of weeding out racist officers -- and from there, they said, officials ought to look at the broader social issues that lead to the overrepresentation of minorities in the criminal-justice system.
"We've been at an impasse for many, many years," said Dudley Laws, head of Toronto's Black Action Defence Committee. Mr. Laws, who spent decades battling with police, added that all of the province's police chiefs ought to issue a joint statement against racial profiling.
But Toronto Police Association president Dave Wilson said in an interview yesterday that the Kingston study does not prove anything.
Gathering race-based data poses difficult questions for the whole of society, not only police, he said.
"Is there is a disproportionate representation that gets drawn into the criminal process, and if there are, then what can be done to prevent those interactions from occurring?" he asked.
He added that "if we're going to look at any kind of study, we have to ask why -- why is this interaction happening?
"We can't just look at pure statistics."
Mr. Wilson went on to say that "there is no systemic racism in the Toronto Police Service" and that he worries about an overzealous response to the issue.
"We don't want police officers second-guessing themselves based on worries about being called racists."
New Toronto Chief Bill Blair is taking a different approach, vowing that addressing racial-profiling will be one of his top priorities.
While he hasn't committed to a timeline, city councillor Pam McConnell says that the civilian board she chairs will ensure that an "action plan" will be in place within the next eight months.
"This issue has already been studied to death," she said.
The plan remains somewhat amorphous as police brass and civilian overseers share some of the union's fears about creating unnecessary bureaucracy and discouraging officers from doing legitimate police work.
It's unlikely that Toronto Police will be able to gather race data about their interactions as comprehensively as Kingston Police, but the feeling is that gathering some information will go a long way toward resolving one of the force's oldest and most volatile controversies.