OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Bill Blair declined an opportunity Tuesday to apologize for supporting carding, a controversial policing policy that disproportionately targeted Black men and people of colour.
The subject came up during the House of Commons’ special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic. NDP MP Matthew Green asked Blair, who served as Toronto’s police chief for a decade before entering politics, to apologize for his role in enforcing “the systematic and racist practice of street checks and carding.”
Blair did not apologize. Instead, the public safety minister spoke about diversity.
“I am very proud to have served as the chief of police in the most diverse city in the country, one of the most diverse in the world,” Blair said, adding that under his tenure the Toronto Police Service became more diverse.
“I would be happy to explain to the member … all of the work we did to serve that community in a respectful way.”
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Activists have long condemned street checks and carding policies as racial profiling, allowing police to stop and collect personal information from people with no evidence of a potential offence. Police have said the data is a useful investigative tool, despite the lack of legal basis to justify the arbitrary street checks.
Police street check and carding policies have disproportionately impacted Black men, according to an 2018 interim inquiry report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC).
The OHRC report found in cases of physical confrontation with police that result in serious injury or death, members of the Black community were overrepresented.
“Despite representing only 8.8 per cent of Toronto’s population, Black people made up approximately 30 per cent of [physical confrontation by police] that has resulted in serious injury or death, 60 per cent of deadly encounters with Toronto Police, and 70 per cent of fatal police shootings.”
Based on interviews with 130 people in Black communities, investigators said they found first-hand accounts of interactions with police that “led to fear, trauma, humiliation, mistrust and expectations of negative treatment.”
A Black person was nearly 20 times more likely to be involved in a fatal shooting by the Toronto police than a white person between 2013 and 2017, the report found.
This time period eclipses Blair’s final years as Toronto’s police chief. After a 39-year career on the police force, and a decade as the city’s top cop, Blair left the service to enter federal politics in 2015 as a star candidate for the Liberals.
The controversial practice was suspended months before Blair left policing and stepped into politics. He has repeatedly been pressed in the House of Commons to acknowledge and apologize for his role in enforcing racial profiling and racial discrimination.
The killing of George Floyd, who died while in police custody after a white officer kneeled into his neck for nearly nine minutes, sparked protests around the world against police brutality and anti-Black racism.
Policing expenses across the country amounted to $15.1 billion in 2017-2018, according to Statistics Canada.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told reporters on Monday he doesn’t agree with defunding police services. Limiting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s resources won’t make Canadians safer, he said.
“I believe that we have to look at aspects within our police forces and stamp out systemic racism where it exists, and put in [place] measures to make sure that nobody is mistreated or treated differently because of the colour of their skin or ethnic background,” Scheer said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made similar comments last week. Despite taking a knee at the No Peace Until Justice rally on Parliament Hill, neither he nor Scheer have suggested any specific action to root out systemic racism.
Scheer said the federal government’s credibility on the file is questionable with Blair in cabinet.
“I point out the fact that Bill Blair, the minister of public safety, was the chief of police in Toronto at the time that card checking was instituted,” he said, accusing Liberals of being “completely hypocritical” on the issue.