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Police Must Address Racial Profiling Head On To Rebuild Trust

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TORONTO POLICE CRUISER
Roberto Machado Noa via Getty Images
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Protesters with the #BlackLivesMatter movement have gathered since March 20 in downtown Toronto. They are upset that no charges are expected to be laid in the case of another black man killed by police. But more broadly, they mark the continuing tensions between the black community and the Toronto Police Service over concerns of systemic racism.

On March 22, just a few blocks away, the Ontario government announced a regulation to "ban" police carding or street checks by next Jan. 1.

At the Ontario Human Rights Commission, we've been working on issues of racial profiling in policing for more than decade.

While carding is only one form of racial profiling, the new regulation is a good step forward. We're happy to see that police officers will be required to tell people why they are being stopped and their right not to provide personal information. It also requires officer training on bias awareness, discrimination and racism and an independent review of the regulation after two years.

Without trust, police cannot provide proactive, intelligence-based policing, and this has profound consequences for the functioning of our justice system.

There are some things missing. Officers should be required explicitly to advise individuals of their right to walk away if they are not under arrest. The reason for the stop should be in the receipt provided. Officer training on systemic racism and racial profiling should be required. Data collection to create greater accountability should be standardized across police services.

Most importantly, we are concerned that the regulation still permits random and arbitrary police stops of racialized individuals, including the collection and storage of personal information, where police are "investigating an offence the officer reasonably suspects has been or will be committed." That's much too broad, and is the justification for a lot of the carding that now occurs.

All of that said, the government is doing the right thing by trying to rebuild trust between Ontario law enforcement agencies and racialized communities. Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi is clearly drawing a link between public confidence in policing and public safety. People are less likely to cooperate with police investigations and provide testimony in court if they have negative perceptions of police. Without trust, police cannot provide proactive, intelligence-based policing, and this has profound consequences for the functioning of our justice system.

However, trust in police will not be built through this one regulation. And trust will not be built if police adhere only to the letter of the regulation rather than the spirit behind it.

As the #BlackLivesMatter movement demonstrates, racial profiling is more than carding. It can and does occur in traffic stops, searches, DNA sampling, arrests, and incidents of officer use of force.

That is why Ontario's police forces and police boards should follow the government's lead and use this moment to commit seriously to ending racial profiling in policing once and for all.

Positive change must come from the police themselves, from the chief and board on down. Police chiefs and boards must acknowledge racism in policing, collect data to identify the many circumstances in which racial profiling occurs, enact policies and procedures to eliminate racial profiling, encourage independent monitoring and accountability, and discipline officers who engage in discrimination.

We will send this message, and our support, to Naqvi as he reviews the Police Services Act.

But Ontario's police services already have all the information they need to meet their obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code. If police took these steps on their own, without waiting for more laws and regulations or applications to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, we could see a true rebuilding of trust.

That, and nothing less, is what is needed to address the concerns of the protestors camped out in front of police headquarters and concerned people across Ontario.

This opinion was originally published online by the Toronto Star on March, 23, 2016

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