Despite efforts to curtail racial profiling, a new study has shown it persists in Toronto’s most marginalized communities, says Sabrina ‘Butterfly’ GoPaul of the group Jane Finch Action Against Poverty
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
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Members of one of Toronto’s poorest communities of color, Jane Finch, are speaking out after a new report has found police officers there continue to disproportionately stop or card people of color. Back in April, Toronto’s civilian police review panel (called the Police Services Board) rolled out a new policy that for the first time asserted its authority over day-to-day practices of Toronto police. Unlike review boards in Baltimore and much of the U.S., the board in Toronto does have significant power over the city’s police force. Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair dismissed the findings and told reporters, quote, this report has suggested certain things and reached certain conclusions that I think may be based upon a long history of tension that existed with the community going back to the ’80s and is not an accurate reflection of what is happening today.
Well, The Real News sat down with the chair of the Police Services Board, Alok Mukherjee.
ALOK MUKHERJEE, CHAIR, TORONTO POLICE SERVICES BOARD: Their findings show that in the experience of the residents of that part of the city, there is an over-contact between the police and the members of the community neighborhood that is of a negative nature. So my reaction was that if that is the experience of the people, as opposed to whatever, maybe the police data, we should be concerned about that.
NOOR: Well, now joining us to discuss this is Sabrina “Butterfly” GoPaul with the group Jane Finch Action Against Poverty. She’s also a resident and activist there.
Thank you so much for joining us.
SABRINA ‘BUTTERFLY’ GOPAUL, JANE FINCH ACTION AGAINST POVERTY: Thank you for having me.
NOOR: So, from Baltimore it would appear that the Toronto experience with civilian oversight of police is that having a powerful police review board can address police-related practices, but needs popular support to fully implement its legislative mandate. So let’s get your response to the contrasting views of Police Chief Bill Blair, who has dismissed the report, and board chair Mukherjee, who called it extremely disturbing and problematic.
GOPAUL: When it comes to the leadership of the police, as well as our local electorial representatives, no one is making noise about this in the way that we have been documenting this. This is an ongoing experience. Yeah, from the ’80s, a documentary was made. But this is also very heightened right now.
In 2008, the community mobilized on 31 Division for police brutality that was happening in the community. We’ve always heard of the misconduct and harassment of young people. But in 2008 we were hearing women getting illegally strip-searched in parking lots and grandmothers getting beaten up during raids and children getting zip tied and thrown in the back of cruisers. So the community mobilized, and over thousand-plus signatures were gathered, and we met at 31 Division, and there again was the denial. No followup, no accountability.
In 2010, a young man was murdered by the hands of the police. He’s a resident–he was a resident of the Jane and Finch community. And we organized and we had a rally and we took this again to 31 Division. But as soon as community stopped putting pressure, the misconduct continued.
In 2012, as a community worker, I was cochair at a network table, and that network table was looking at the TAVIS. And this is a police strategy that comes out in the summertime in particular priority neighborhoods or racialized communities. And he hijacked that meeting, threatened me. I was also pregnant with my second son at that time. And Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty wrote an open letter.
So this is an ongoing and very current reality people are living. Our leadership of the city of Toronto–I mean, we also had G20 a couple of years back, where again the police denied claims of any kind of misconduct and brutality.
NOOR: And so, from our understanding, it was the aftermath of G20 that really led to the Police Services Board asserting its authority over these type of police practices and trying to rein in and have civilian oversight over these interactions, because as we know, when you have low-income communities of color, they are affected by crime. And community members want healthy interactions with police. They’re supposed to be there to serve and protect. How can this be achieved in a way that works for these communities?
GOPAUL: Well, currently the bodies that will investigate accountability are cops themselves or retired police. Residents and community members who are coming from this lived experience aren’t at these tables of evaluation or accountability or to see if these policies or change of policies are being measured in any way that really translates to the community experience. So when you have this report that just rolled out and being denounced of its relative or validity and it was community young people who actually were hired to do the research, that were trained, that had all the trading in terms of creating the questions, ethical codes, it’s really a slap in the face to community who’s living this experience and putting themselves out there to document and to create a research piece to push this experience forward. There’s no accountability when you have the same systems that are keeping the accountability. It makes no sense.
And this has been an ongoing problem that we’ve been facing in 31 Division, or Jane and Finch. Thirty-One Division is known for the bad police. So police officers that have been reprimanded in other parts of the city of Toronto end up being put here. There is a police officer that–he was charged–not charged, but, I mean, allegations were put forward of police brutality. And now–you know, he was suspended with pay, and now he’s working for Crime Stoppers. So, I mean, there is a message to people who are living this experience that the decision-makers don’t care about us and that this misconduct will continue.
We had a press conference last night, Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty, where we invited residents to come and share their experiences. But what we’re hearing from residences is the fear of that. They’re currently being targeted and being harassed. When family members support their loved ones going through this process, they end up getting harassed. And this isn’t just harassment on the streets. The slips into people’s employment. The slips into pushing people out of schools. So it’s also this coordination of all these institutions really criminalizing our community and racialized people.
NOOR: And so the board is meeting next week. And this issue, as I previously mentioned, has caused a public rift between the chief of police and the board. What is the public’s plan, what is the community’s plan? Are there plans to attend this board meeting and voice their own–have their voice heard and also support people like Alok Mukherjee, who is having this public fight over what the report’s findings mean and what changes should be implemented in the police force?
GOPAUL: Well, community will definitely be at the meeting. Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty, we work very locally within our community. But police misconduct and brutality is something that’s happening around the city, and there’s other like movements as well that will be represented there. One of our guest speakers last night is a lawyer who’s pursuing a class-action lawsuit, and I’m sure he will be there. There was also an organizer from Toronto Police Accountability Coalition. So, I mean, there’s movements around the city, as well as a young man that was recently murdered by the hands of Peel Police. So they will also be there too.
And it is to put pressure. I mean, we recognize that what happens with these experiences is it exhausts resources. People will mobilize and put as much attention and put a lot of pressure, but this is a working-class community, so those resources do get exhausted. In terms of independent inquest and lawyers, these also are resources that are hard to sustain as well.
So this is an ongoing challenge to continue to apply this pressure. But we’ll be there and will continue to apply the pressure.
But in terms of the policy and the change, when we’re looking at a community like Jane and Finch, where the Pan Am Games will be hosted–there’s transit expanditure on its way. Gentrification’s always on the loom of our community. I think people are aware and also terrified what’s coming down the pipe as well.
NOOR: Well, we’re going to certainly keep following this story very closely. And I want to remind our viewers to email us with suggestions and keep us posted about what’s happening in their communities around the country and in North America and the world. Sabrina “Butterfly” GoPaul with the group Jane Finch Action against Poverty, thank you so much for joining us.
GOPAUL: Think you so much for your time.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.
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