Toronto police are challenging the claims of a broadcast journalist who believes she was stopped and questioned by police because she is black – arguing they didn't know her race and that dash-cam footage shows she rolled through a stop sign.
In an unusual move, high-ranking police officers took to social media to respond to an opinion piece published on Monday in The Globe and Mail by Marci Ien, a co-host on CTV's The Social. In it, Ms. Ien recounted an incident in her driveway on the evening of Feb. 18.
When she got out of the car – confused about the sudden flashing lights in her rear-view mirror – she said the officer yelled at her to get back in. It was the third time she's been stopped by police in her neighbourhood in eight months, Ms. Ien wrote. He told her that she had rolled through a stop sign.
"The stop signal at my daughter's school is half a kilometre away; why wasn't I pulled over there? Why did he follow me home? Why, after seeing the address on my driver's licence, did he still ask if I lived at my home?" she wrote, suggesting there is a double standard for people of colour.
On Tuesday, Toronto police Staff Superintendent Mario Di Tommaso tweeted to Ms. Ien that she was stopped not because of her ethnicity, but because of her driving.
"I have viewed the video footage of your vehicle stop," he wrote. "You were stopped because of your driving behaviour. You failed to stop at a stop sign. It was dark. Your race was not visible on the video and only became apparent when you stepped out of the vehicle in your driveway."
Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon later tweeted similar comments about the video. "These incidents are an opportunity for discussion and learning by everyone involved," she added. "Our relationships with people = communities. Our work in listening and building/ensuring trust can never be over."
Chief Mark Saunders also weighed in during a television interview, saying he reviewed video footage and audio transcripts from the stop – and invited Ms. Ien to do the same.
Ms. Ien said they're missing the point.
"The point is not whether I did or didn't do something. It's how I felt [in my driveway] … it was his tone. It scared me."
As a black woman, she said that is her frame of reference with police – and she doesn't expect everyone to understand.
"I do feel … that being black had something to do with it," she said.
Ms. Ien said she has not heard from the chief or the service and found their public comments – particularly about the video footage, which she has yet to see – to be "highly unprofessional." She plans on seeking counsel from a lawyer.
She described it as a "smear campaign," referencing a tweet by Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack that excerpted a 2005 interview Ms. Ien did with The Globe about her car.
"Ien confesses she likes speed sometimes," the article stated. "She has been stopped by police a few times, but nailed only once. Her secret: 'I flash them a smile. I don't know if it's the Marci Ien thing, but it's like, 'Did you know you were going …?' Yes, I did. I won't do it again. 'Okay, that's fine.'"
Ms. Ien questioned what her previous comments have to do with the current incident.
"So I'm a bad driver, does that mean I should be profiled?" she said. "I was scared in my driveway … and that's okay because I'm a bad driver?"
While the police chief defended his officer's actions in this case, he acknowledged the larger issue is that Ms. Ien said this was the third time she was stopped in eight months.
"That is a concern, and that's something – if there are issues, if there's an opportunity to look at those three [instances] – I'm certainly willing to look at those three and then figure out what needs to be done on either end of the spectrum," Chief Saunders said.
Ms. Ien said she has no regrets about writing the piece.