We Need Toronto Police to be More Accountable in the Deaths of Black Citizens
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We Need Toronto Police to be More Accountable in the Deaths of Black Citizens

If you thought the U.S. was worse off, think again.

Photo by Zun Lee from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by Zun Lee from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

After almost two years since the death of Jermaine Carby, we finally know the name of the police officer who shot and killed him.

At a coroner’s inquest earlier this month into the death of the 33-year-old Brampton man, Constable Ryan Reid of the Peel Police was revealed as the officer who shot Carby. When relating the events that led up to the shooting to the inquest’s all-white jury, Reid said: “I would not do anything differently.”

If that lack of empathy and remorse sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is exactly what George Zimmermann said when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin four years ago, in Sanford, Florida.

As the three-week inquest continues into Carby’s death, the outcome will be “to not assign blame,” as pointed out by the coroner Dr. William Lucas, but instead come up with recommendations that are expected to help in ensuring this never happens again. This hopeful notion doesn’t take into account that the violence surrounding Carby’s death didn’t happen simply because officers were unprepared and poorly trained in de-escalation tactics. Police interactions with Black and brown people living in the GTA have always been thinly laced with racism and stifling surveillance—keeping tabs of who goes where, why they are there, and whether they are the likely to cause trouble.

Still, there remains an overall sentiment that things could be worse. “At least we are not in the U.S.,” many say. It’s mostly white people I hear spouting this meaningless statement—those who aren’t disproportionately affected by this violence, nor those who have been involved in resistance.

Our country—and in particular, Toronto and the GTA—continues to show that it’s worse than our neighbour to the south when it comes police accountability and transparency.

Americans know the names of the trigger-happy white officers who kill Black people. Canada is sorely lacking when it comes to that type of transparency. You would be hard pressed to find information detailing the names of Black Canadians who have experienced violent interactions with the police, as there is no known collection of such data. We still don’t know the name of the officer who shot Andrew Loku outside his home in July 2015, the officer who killed 21-year-old Kwasi Skene-Peters the same month, or the officer who killed Alex Wettlaufer, another 21-year old, last March.

It’s not a new phenomenon. In 1992, following the acquittal of four white police officers who were videotaped beating Rodney King, a Black man in Los Angeles, the Black Action Defence Committee organized a solidarity rally in Toronto. Two days prior to the rally, a white plain-clothed police officer in Toronto shot and killed Raymond Constantine Lawrence, a 22-year-old Black man, who police alleged was dealing crack. Lawrence was the fourteenth Black man shot by the Toronto Police Service since 1978 (an average of one per year), and the fourth to die.

More times than not, Americans are also granted the right to see whatever video or audio footage of altercations with police, be it a 911 phone call or a recording of the interaction. The presence of one or both of these does not guarantee an arrest, let alone a guilty verdict, but it does put the police in a position where they are required to explain and justify their actions. Yet in Canada, any kind of evidence is confiscated and held in police custody, never to see the light of a courtroom. Or it conveniently appears when police are in need of a just cause as to why they started firing. In the case of Carby, police say he was wielding a knife, which was not found at the scene, but later manifested seven hours after the shooting.

In the matter of Black lives and police violence, the Canadian justice system has failed at holding officers accountable, hiding behind bureaucracy and red tape, only offering sound bites when pressed by community members. In a Toronto Star analysis, police data from 2008 to mid-2011 found that the number of young Black and brown males aged 15 to 24 documented in each of the city’s 72 patrol zones is greater than the actual number of young men of colour living in those areas.

The numbers have not decreased. The data from 2015, compiled over a period of six years, found that Black people in Brampton and Mississauga are three times more likely to be stopped by Peel Police than white people.

And as of 2013, there was a 69 per cent increase in the number of incarcerated Black Canadians, a growth seen over a period of 10 years. Black Canadians continue to be over-represented in our correctional facilities and carding is the anti-Black vehicle, draped in a maple leaf and aiding in that over-representation. It’s a scourge that is not going to be made better by sweeping recommendations and half-hearted attempts at reconciliation.

In this constant game of jeopardy where Black Canadians have to keep asking questions to receive some semblance of an answer, knowing the name of the officer who shot Carby is an achievement. But it’s one punctuated with even more questions and countless inconsistencies about what actually happened on September 24, 2014.

The Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General recently released 10 pages of the SIU report that documented the moments leading up to Andrew Loku’s death. What the public saw was a brief and heavily censored report, where even the name of the officer involved was covered in black. All this in the name of “privacy” and “adhering” to the law. When asked where the rest of the report was, without censure, no one responded. For Mayor John Tory, it seems, it’s easy to get distracted by the long-awaited presence of a winning Toronto sports team (Go Raptors) and to avoid the questions and requests of a community he was elected to represent.

It is humane and the most basic sign of respect when someone is made aware of the name of the person who killed a loved one. It helps in the grieving process when you have some answers, and puts a face to the guilty party. It’s one of the first steps to accountability, and Canada desperately needs that. Because right now the only difference between Canada and the U.S. seems to be that the officers involved in the shooting deaths of Andrew Loku, Alex Wettlaufer, and Kwasi Skene-Peters haven’t auctioned off their guns as some misguided, racist memento. But then again, we wouldn’t know—because we don’t know their names.