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End racial profiling now, say protesters

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Angry protesters packed the area in front of police headquarters in Toronto on Wednesday to speak out against racial profiling and the failure of the Toronto Police Services Board to eliminate the age-old practice.

Even though activists admitted that the Toronto Police Service and the City of Toronto have committed to ending racial profiling, protest groups said they haven’t gone far enough.

At Wednesday’s rally, the Justice IS NOT Colour-Blind Campaign, a non-funded, youth-led group seeking changes to policing in Toronto, demanded an end to all racist programs including racial profiling, “carding”, the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) and the Provincial Anti-Violence Intervention Strategies (PAVIS). 

The Toronto Star reported on Monday that “Toronto Police stop up to 400,000 people every year during non-criminal encounters, asking them where they’re going; recording their name and address and the names of the people they’re with.”

In March, the Toronto Star ran “a series that showed police stop, question and document young black and brown men at a disproportionate rate.”

In response, Chief Blair recommended in his report that a receipt be issued to all persons stopped by police. 

“Now they’ll get a receipt from the person who’s unjustly stopping them and talking to them in their neighbourhood,” said Yafet Tewelde, an organizer with the Justice IS NOT Colour-Blind Campaign (JINCC).

The receipt will include the name of the person to whom the receipt is issued, the name of the officer issuing the receipt, the location, date & time, and the reason for the interaction.

“The receipt cannot just include the reason for the stop,” said Vickie McPhee, an organizer with Rights Watch Network. 

“It must include the purpose for the profiling, details of the officers involved including their name, rank, division and supervisor’s name so that they are too known to us. We must keep the same independent data that they keep on us on them.”

Since 2007, the Toronto Police Services Board made a commitment to eliminate racial profiling within the Toronto Police Service through their Human Rights Project Charter.

But five years later, McPhee said, the Board has failed to fulfill its promise.

As a result, McPhee announced that the JINCC and the Rights Watch Network have jointly established a project that will connect victims of racial profiling with lawyers who are prepared to file a class action on their behalf.

“We want people to get connected,” said McPhee.

With respect to TAVIS, the Toronto Police Service describe the Strategy as “an intensive, violence reduction and community mobilization strategy intended to reduce crime and increase safety” in neighbourhoods.

“What kind of community policing initiative is where police use billy clubs to beat young kids in the face, knees to the back of the head to demand the name of a youth or beats a father in front of their children just because they’re walking to the store?” asked Tewelde. 

“And I’m not making these things up. These are all reported in your local newspaper.”

The JINCC also wants an end to all raids and sweeps in their communities, the arrest and prosecution of any police officer involved in the killing of a young, Black man and compensation to the victims’ families.

“If they really cared about ending guns and drugs and gangs, they’d go to the source,” he said. “They’d go to Bay Street. They’d actually do something to stop the flow of guns and drugs across the border.”

But, said Tewelde, “that’s because raids and sweeps are about controlling people.”

Wednesday’s event was endorsed by more than a dozen groups including the office of Jagmeet Singh.

“There is a culture that needs to be changed,” said Singh, NDP MPP, Bramalea Gore Malton.

“There is an adversarial nature between the police and the community that needs to end. The police should facilitate our democratic right to dissent and our ability to voice our concerns.”

As an elected official, Singh said his constituents bring him stories of their confrontations with police on a daily basis.

Now he wants a positive response from the police that shows a willingness to address these issues. 

He also wants a commitment from everyone at Wednesday’s rally to continue the struggle to create a community “where people don’t feel that the colour of their skin is the colour of their justice.”

Selwyn Pieters, a Toronto human rights, criminal and civil litigation lawyer, said stories of racial profiling are fairly common.

“And unfortunately, they’re accepted now as the norm,” said Pieters. 

“And I’m glad that the young people have shown up today and taken a position against this despicable act conducted by Toronto Police Service and many other police services in North America.”

Pieters said he’s defended many clients whose charges have stemmed from racial profiling.

“But the charges are just the beginning,” he said. 

“They have bail conditions, the cost of hiring counsel and the stress of going through litigation with their future on hold.”

After the rally, protesters prepared tried to go inside police headquarters to make their deputations to the Toronto Police Services Board.

But they were denied entry.

“Toronto Police block Black speakers, lawyers, community members from board meeting to discuss racist policing practices,” wrote @thec4pa on Twitter.

And people want answers.

“Who gave the instructions to those armed police officers guarding the door outside of Toronto Police headquarters to not let us in and why?” asked Pieters on Twitter.

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