PHOTO: Toronto Star
Multiple sources tell the Star that Ramer — who is scheduled to speak to the media from Toronto police headquarters Wednesday — is expected to issue an apology in his public comments on the new data. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
If given, an apology would be a shift in tone from how police have responded to previous reports detailing the ways the Black community faces police force at rates higher than their share of the city’s population. One difference this time: Wednesday’s report has been prepared by Toronto police itself.
Ramer’s press conference is scheduled to begin after the public release of statistics on use of force and strip searches conducted in 2020 — internal data that’s never been released by police and that’s only recently started to be documented by officers.
Toronto police provided a technical briefing to members of the media on Tuesday in preparation for the release. Asked Tuesday, a Toronto police spokesperson declined to comment on whether Ramer will issue an apology.
Before 2020, police were not required to note the perceived race of the people they used force against, nor did officers record the race of those subjected to strip searches, a practice that, despite Canada’s Supreme Court dubbing it “inherently degrading,” was found to be routine within the Toronto police in a scathing 2019 report.
Also in 2019, police services across Ontario were mandated by the province to begin documenting a person’s perceived race in officers’ use of force reports. These reports — which are required whenever an officer uses physical force requiring medical attention, deploys a TASER, or draws or points their firearm — are the basis of some of the statistics set to be released Wednesday.
The release is expected to make for a “challenging” few weeks, Toronto police told employees in an internal message sent over the weekend and obtained by the Star.
The note did not provide specifics about the race-based data but said the findings “reaffirm the existence of systemic racism” and will prompt discussion about “the extent to which systemic racism has led to differential treatment of racial groups by our service.”
“It will be difficult for you, our members, as it will lead some people to question the hard work you do every day,” the internal message said, which noted officers will be supported.
In a statement on its race-based collection page, the Toronto Police Service says it is committed “to comprehensive police reform and internal culture change.”
“We recognize that race-based data has been misused by the Toronto Police Service in the past. We will use this data to help us work more deeply with communities,” the force said.
Previous examinations of Toronto police data by the Ontario Human Rights Commission have found that Black Torontonians were “grossly overrepresented” in cases in which police have used force.
In a groundbreaking 2018 report, the OHRC found that a Black person was nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be fatally shot by Toronto police.
In a joint statement responding to that report, the Toronto police and its civilian police board said they would act on the reports’ recommendations and that they “recognize that there are those within Toronto’s Black communities who feel that, because of the colour of their skin, the police, including when it comes to use of force, have at times, treated them differently.”
But the statement said, “some may raise questions about the approach, methodology and statistical basis of this report.” It went on to say that the issues raised in the report should be “scrutinized to ensure the fullest and fairest analysis and accounting.”
Further data analysis by the OHRC in 2020 found Black people were five times more likely than white people to be subjected to lower-level physical force, causing injuries such as severe bruises or lacerations, during the same time period.
After the release of the additional data, Toronto police and its board said it was “committed to learning and continuing to address the harmful impacts of systemic racism.”
They acknowledged in a statement that the report’s findings came “at a pivotal time in history, as people around the world are engaged in a critical dialogue about anti-Black racism, policing, accountability and reform.”
Community advocates, police researchers and criminologists have, for years, been calling for the collection of race-based data to track and measure bias within the Toronto police service and policing nationwide.
In 2019, the Toronto Police Services Board unanimously approved a policy around the collection of race-based data, a change dubbed historic at the time and that was aimed at improving trust in some city communities.
“For me personally, as a member of the Black community in Toronto, I wanted to also honour the legacy of people who’ve been advocating for this for over 30 years,” Notisha Massaquoi, former co-chair of the anti-racism advisory panel that shaped the policy, said at the time.
The Toronto police press conference is scheduled to take place Wednesday morning.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis