It's a time of heightened tensions regarding racial issues in Canada. And, on Thursday, a Toronto Police race data policy that will see the law-enforcement service begin collecting and analyzing information on the backgrounds of citizens was approved by the city's police services board. This policy, considered the first of its kind in Canada, has been called a "historic step" in addressing systemic racism in the Toronto Police Service.
The policy was developed from recommendations made in a 2018 report written by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The report found that while black people only make up 8.8 per cent of Toronto's population, they are 20 times more likely to be shot and killed by police.
The collection of racial data is expected to start in January in "force-of-use" incidents, of which it's estimated there are 1,500 each year.
While applause rang out when the board voted unanimously to support the policy, there were still some concerns. Several public speakers at the meeting questioned why the policy won't allow citizens interacting with policy to self-identify their race. While this will eventually happen, the perception of race will be at the police officer's discretion at first.
The policy will also not be used to identify the actions of individual officers, but to track trends throughout the entire police force.
Chief Mark Saunders called the move a "pivotal point" in the history of Toronto Police Service.
"Our work today to incorporate an anti-racism approach to our policies and procedures will have far-reaching and progressive impacts for generations to come," Saunders said during the September 19 police board meeting at which the policy was approved.
Saunders said Toronto Police will try to learn "best practices" from the more than 4,000 other organizations that have similar policies worldwide.
Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said adopting the policy makes the Toronto Police Service a "national leader."
Speaking with Narcity before the policy received approval on Thursday, Mandhane said there have been calls for a policy like this in Toronto for more than 30 years. She suggested it finally puts the city in line with other major North American cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston.
Kingsley Gilliam, co-founder of the Black Action Defense Committee, said it is the first time he feels the Toronto Police Service Board and the black community are "aligned." While he said the policy was a good start, though, he believes there is a lot more work to be done to address police racism and improving the relationship with Toronto's black community.
"It is not an ending in itself, but it is a beginning," Gilliam said.
Certainly, the poignancy of the timing of the announcement, with Canada gripped in the scandal caused by photos of Justin Trudeau's "brownface", will not escape many people.
Chief Saunders is expected to make a report on the progress of the phase-in at a December 19 meeting.