Policing Racism

The Toronto Star reported October 8th on the Toronto Police Services Board‘s decision to hold a public consultation on “carding” – more specifically, the disproportionate rate at which Black Torontonians are stopped and documented by police. The Police Services Board was considering the Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER) report on police carding (Form 306) and profiling and its 31 recommendations. The report states: 

Community engagement is one of the most important ways for the Service to reduce crime and build relationships. It is also one of the most controversial and least understood police practices. These encounters have raised general community concerns about police accountability and transparency – it has also resulted in longstanding specific concerns from the Black community about racial profiling.

The African Canadian Legal Clinic applauded the initiatives to screen officers for racial bias and establish a standing advisory committee but expressed concern about the ongoing over-documentation of people in particular communities. Knia Singh, who has been asked for documentation 8 times without ever being charged, argued that “reframing” carding as “community safety” notes is disappointing. Ironically, it is the police who also determine when hate speech crimes (racial, religious or other) have occurred and whether to seek enhanced sentencing due to hate motivation.

On the same TRSB website can be found the Hate Crimes Unit Annual report for 2011. “In 2011, there was a decrease in the number of total hate/bias crime occurrences reported to the HCU. In comparison to 2010, the number of reported occurrences fell from 132 to 123 representing a difference of 7%. Over the past ten years, between 2002 and 2011, the average number of reported hate/bias crimes is 154 per annum.” Hate crimes is the topic of Tim Bryan’s PhD research in York’s Socio-Legal Studies program; he presented in the Tubman working papers series this week.

As Bryan noted, a decline in the number of reported crimes may not tell us much about hate-motivated incidents. What the reporting and charging of hate crimes may reveal, however, is the erasure of systemic racism, slavery and discrimination from Canada’s past and the management of our national story of multiculturalism. Hate crimes cases, Bryan argues, are often constructed as exceptional and extreme, the product of aberrant individual behaviour. His ongoing research explores the training of police, the interaction of police and Crown attorneys, and the knowledge produced by their decisions. We look forward to hearing more about his work in the future.

Next up in the Working Paper Series is Njeri Campbell talking about “African women’s experience of discrimination in employment”, November 5th at 3:00.

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