POLICING……Where were we?

……continuing from August 20.

This briefly touches on three items. And, it’s ‘local’ coverage. Magnify ten-fold for all of Canada.

Desmond Cole, a black 35 year-old Toronto journalist and activist, hosts a weekly radio program, and has written for numerous publications.

“The Skin I’m In: I’ve been interrogated by police more than 50 times – all because I’m black”, Cole’s May, 2015 cover essay for Toronto Life, was one of the most discussed Canadian stories of 2015, and won three National Magazine Awards that year.

He became a Toronto Star columnist in September of 2015 to cover race issues, but resigned in May of 2017 after his editor told him he had violated the paper’s policy on journalism and activism by mounting a one-man protest at a Toronto Police Services Board meeting. The Star has a long practice of using and supporting writers who were also activists, so what made the difference here?

On Thursday, April 20, Cole made a public deputation about the police practice of “carding” to the Toronto Police Services Board, and delivered an ultimatum. He insisted the board put stricter constraints on police access to the data collected through the “illicit” practice. According to the Star’s Wendy Gillis in the next day’s paper, Cole argued, “It was never your information to take in the first place. I plan to stand here in protest until you commit today, here and now, to restricting the police having our information going forward. You want to ruin another generation of children’s lives, and I’m not going to allow you to do it.” The meeting was adjourned, and then cancelled.

The Toronto Star has been a long-time critic of “carding”, covers the Toronto Police Service extensively, and is not highly regarded by police management and its officers. So, who went though the paper’s back door to get Cole removed from staff?

This city, this province, this country needs more like Desmond Cole.

Three days after that board meeting, the Star’s Jim Rankin and Wendy Gillis co-authored, “Ontario police share data from carding with Ottawa”. Ontario’s Provincial Counter-Terrorism Plan was sent to all Ontario police chiefs, the OPP commissioner, and police services boards in October of 2014. Two small Ontario police departments recently posted the latest version of the plan on-line which is where the Star found it, but it disappeared from the sites soon after.

“Front-line officers across Ontario have the unique opportunity to recognize, identify, collect and report on intelligence gathered through primary response duties, such as street checks (‘carding’), vehicle stops and criminal investigations,” the document states. Municipal police services “should ensure” that intelligence they gather “is shared regularly with key partners,” including the Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario, the Ontario Provincial Police’s anti-terrorism section, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and the RCMP.

“Carding” is simply a form of intelligence-gathering without cause. It’s one thing for the police to pass on what they believe is relevant data from valid investigations, but to stop whomever they please, ask whatever questions they choose, expect truthful and reliable responses, and then use that information for supposedly genuine national security purposes is something else.

In spite of new regulations around the practice of “carding”, there is no substantive oversight on compliance. “The police are really free to do whatever the hell they want, and pass it on to whoever they want,” is how Law Union of Ontario lawyer Paul Copeland put it.

If you give up a little bit of liberty in the name of law and order, you’ll deserve both, and have neither.

“Pot arrest data reveals ‘startling’ racial divide” headed an early July Toronto Star exposé by Jim Rankin and Sandro Contenta, with Andrew Bailey analysing the data. “Police stats obtained by the Star show disparity when it comes to marijuana possession charges,” read the deck.

According to this, “Black people with no history of criminal convictions have been three times more likely to be arrested by Toronto police for possession of small amounts of marijuana than white people with similar backgrounds.”

This comprehensive study of statistics and related data beginning in 2002 indicates a pronounced tendency within the Toronto Police Service to disproportionately target poor and racialized communities. “They (the police) didn’t go into the parks of Forest Hill to shake down the rich white kids. They spent their time in the parks and community centres of the Jane and Finch corridor, and it was like shooting fish in a barrel.”, said Daniel Brown, a Toronto lawyer who regularly defends clients on marijuana charges.

Annamaria Enenajor, a criminal lawyer focusing on civil rights, describes policing bias near her office close to University of Toronto student housing. “I don’t see them doing raids on those frat houses,” she says. “It’s all drunken white boys over there. I walk by and I definitely smell weed.”

We emailed Jim Rankin at his Star office on July 10: “My adopted son, who is black, looked at this and said, ‘So this is news?’ Referring to all us white people, he added, ‘You’re just catching up on what we’ve known for years.’”

Jim Rankin came back an hour later, “Absolutely bang on!”


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