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Mark Saunders Has a Duty to End Toronto's Racist Carding Policy

04/21/2015 06:17 EDT | Updated 06/21/2015 05:59 EDT
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Mark Saunders will be Toronto's first black Police Chief.

The first time I met Saunders was at an AGM hosted by the Black Business & Professional Association last year. I was a candidate to be President of the national organization. I had a vision to take the organization to an advocacy route and I received significant support when I announced my candidacy via the Toronto Star. The incumbent wanted to maintain the status quo and have the organization continue to be an award-granting institution.

I sold lots of membership and I was confident. At the last moment, I was made aware that I would not be allowed to stand as a candidate since I was new to the organization. I was disappointed and challenged the decision openly but ultimately, I failed to convince the board to allow me to run. The President was acclaimed.

I felt rejected, heartbroken and disappointed. I felt alone.

Mark Saunders came, sat next to me and encouraged me to continue to be active in the community. He made me feel like the issue at hand was more powerful than my own ambition. He shared with me words of wisdom, handed me his business card, hugged me and departed. That was such a fulfilling gesture coming from someone significant. He did not have to do that and he did. That made such a profound impression on me.

When his appointment as Toronto's top cop became public on Monday, he reflected how "being black is fantastic," though "it does not give him superpowers" and that if we "are expecting that all of a sudden, the earth will open up and miracles will happen, that's not going to happen." Sure, but it still is a significant milestone for him and the black community. As the Toronto Star editorial reflected, "his rise is a testament to what can be accomplished through dedication, inspiration and hard work."

Isn't that what the Canadian dream is all about?

Saunders is a pioneer and has travelled a road less travelled by someone of his colour, from becoming the first black to lead the homicide unit to being the first black sergeant with the elite Emergency Task Force unit. To the average black citizen, who is interested in policing as a career, his is a reminder that the ultimate destination is friendlier now because of him.

To him, I hope the voice of the average citizen will be as important as the privileged. I hope, he knows, in our Toronto society, no black person is safe, from racial discrimination and that the new carding policy -- the practice of stopping, questioning and documenting civilians disproportionately brown and black men -- he supports is an unfortunate milestone in our citizenship. If he continues to endorse racial profiling, as a black citizen himself, his historic achievement would be in name only.

Young blacks are thought to be victims of the new policy however the reality is that we are all becoming victims. To the average police, our black skin is an invitation to be a target. It does not matter, if one is a 49-year-old Rhodes Scholar Bay Street lawyer from Rosedale or a random person from Scarborough. To them, we are all potential suspects -- "young and black."

In Canada, when most of my friends and I consider to rent or buy a luxury car, before insurance costs or the actual price of the car, our primary concern is the constant abuse we will be subjected to from the police. I wonder, with the new carding policy, if we would become targets on foot as well. That should not be the case in a progressive and inclusive society such as ours. As the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno explained eloquently this morning, our fear is based on the fact, "there have been too many black men killed or wounded for nothing, or as the consequence of minor infractions."

Lest we forget, Chief-designate Saunders is on record as supporting carding as a "valuable tool." It might as well be but it should not come at the expense of the rights of law abiding, for the most part, black citizens, of Toronto. The policy is racist, wrong and reflects poorly on our collective public ideals. We are all potential victims of it and it does not matter if we look like the new Chief or his adolescent 10-year-old son, who reminded him of the historic nature of the appointment.

At the press conference announcing his appointment, he was asked about the new carding policy and he responded how he is "open to (exploring) whatever" is going to be best for the city."

I hope he is sincere.

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