Black Toronto residents 20 times more likely to be shot dead by police, study says

Attendees at a Black Lives Matter rally at Toronto police headquarters on 26 March.
Attendees at a Black Lives Matter rally at Toronto police headquarters on 26 March. Photograph: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Black residents in Canada’s largest city are 20 times more likely to be shot dead by the police than white residents, according to a landmark report from the province’s human rights watchdog.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission studied seven years of data surrounding interactions between police and black residents in Toronto, for the report, which found that black residents face disproportionate discrimination and violence at the hands of the police.

While black residents make up less than 10% of the city’s population, they accounted for 61% of all cases where police used force that resulted in death and 70% of police shootings that resulted in death.

“When it comes to law enforcement, when it comes to the police, there is an overarching reality of violence that is often a part of the fabric of everyday life for black people in this country,” said Robyn Maynard, author of Policing Black Lives. “I think this data is absolutely damning and reveals something very important.”

The report also found that the practice of “carding” – where police stop residents and collect personal information – “reveal[ed] a lack of legal basis” and often included “inappropriate or unjustified searches during encounters; and unnecessary charges or arrests”.

Encounters with police that are seen as arbitrary or without cause run the risk of reducing the effectiveness of the city’s police service, the report said, calling the current relationship between black residents and the police “fractured”.

On Monday, the Toronto police acknowledged the frustrations of many residents in the city who have long suspected they were treated differently because of the colour of their skin. “We understand that this has created a sense of distrust that has lasted generations,” the force said in a statement.

For many in the city, however, the data merely confirmed a reality they had long known existed.

“I’m absolutely not surprised by the findings because this is a discussion that we’ve been having in Toronto now that [has] been going on decades,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto. “Issues of race and policing and race in use of force are not unique to the American context. [They] have existed in Canada for quite some time.”

Cities need rethink the notion of public safety, said Maynard, focusing more on safe and affordable housing instead of increasing police presence in low-income neighbourhoods, which greatly increases the chances of violent interactions with police.

“That’s a problem that the police themselves cannot solve. It’s a problem for policymakers and our society to acknowledge – that issues of poverty and disenfranchisement result in exposure to these types of practices,” said Owusu-Bempah, who said that he hoped the report helps Canadians examine stories of racial profiling and violence with a greater sense of empathy and understanding.

“These are people, they’re not just statistics,” he said. “These are children, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.”

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