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The issue of bias in policing is a complicated one: police forces don’t like to admit that ethnic bias exists, and keeping records based on ethnicity is seen as a simplified and inaccurate representation of broader cultural context. Seven years ago, following allegations of racial profiling by the Toronto Police Service, then-Chief Julian Fantino launched an extensive internal audit, yet publicly disputed media accusations of bias, stating that the study was meant to deal with “perceptions that have been created,” and that “there are instances of inappropriate conduct by a small number of our members…we do not, however, have a racist or corrupt police service.” The police union threatened to sue anyone who insinuated that ethnic bias existed within the force—and they did: a libel lawsuit against the Star was brought as far as the Supreme Court, and subsequently dismissed.
Today, Chief Bill Blair presented opening remarks at a diversity conference held at the Toronto Police College, and in a turnabout from his predecessor, frankly admits that ethnic profiling has been an unfortunate reality. However, the TPS has made aggressive strides in changing the face of the force, almost doubling the number of ethnic minorities in just a decade. Now almost one-fifth of police officers are visible minorities.
Police union head Doug Corrigan claims that ethnic bias isn’t an ingrained problem within the TPS, but critics say that it’s a difficult phenomenon to monitor, and that visible minorities are disproportionately overrepresented in “involuntary police contact.” Ironically, these allegations are more challenging to prove now that the Toronto Police no longer record ethnic statistics for routine incidents. Opponents of ethnicity-based data collection say that it reinforces stereotypes and paints an inaccurate picture of minorities; others call for its return, claiming, in part, that it can help keep the police from repeating the mistakes of its past.