Police are interpreting the law in their favour

John Sewell –

We might live Downtown, but we can’t avoid the Region of Peel. It’s where we find the big Pearson Airport.
It’s where the relatives live in Brampton; it’s where the wealthy friends live who invite people we know for a drink at their farm in Caledon.

Once we are in Peel we are under the control of the Peel Regional Police, a group you don’t want to tangle with.

A lawyer specializing in criminal cases told me a few years ago, “I tell all my clients who have been convicted of a crime, move out of Peel so the Peel police won’t harass you.”john1

Recently the Toronto Star obtained and released data about who the police card in Peel. The evidence wasn’t much different than in Toronto: Peel police card (that is, stop, question and record personal information on people who are not suspected of being involved in criminal activity) three times as many black people as white people. In Peel as in Toronto, police stop you because of the colour of your skin, not because of what you are doing. ­It is straightforward discrimination against people because of their skin colour. Last week, on the initiative of the Mayor of Mississauga, Bonnie Crombie, the Peel Region Police Services Board voted to recommend that the police service stop carding. The police chief then said it would disregard the board’s decision and would continue with carding.

The chief said the board had no authority to dictate how the police force should run its affairs. The chief was saying that at least in Peel Region there was no such thing as civilian control of police.

The chief was relying on Section 31(4) of the Police Services Act which states, “The board shall not direct the chief of police with respect to specific operational decisions or with respect to the day-to-day operation of the police force.”

The Toronto Police Services Board cited this section when it said it really wasn’t responsible for anything that happened during the G20 in 2010 when police arrested more than 1,000 people, mostly without cause. Retired judge John Morden, in his report on the board’s activities, said the section only prevented the board from ordering the chief to arrest certain individuals or raid certain premises; it did not prevent the board from setting policies which controlled the way the police deal with the public.
Some police officers in management positions have, like the chief of the Peel police, quarrelled with this interpretation. But Section 31(4) is pretty clear. It talks about “specific” operational decisions, and “day-to-day operations.” The board can’t tell the chief whom to arrest, or which places to raid. The section clearly does not prevent the board from creating broad policies which the police must respect.

And if the Police Services Board cannot set broad policies about how the police deal with the public, that means the police have no civilian oversight. They are a law until themselves.

Much thinking in United States arrives at the conclusion that the police (and indeed many members of the public) generally think anyone with a dark skin is probably a criminal. Accordingly, when police are making their rounds and they come across someone with dark skin, they have a “reasonable suspicion” that person is involved in crime and the person gets carded. That’s what Peel police do. They make an unfounded decision made on race, and the chief of police in Peel thinks that’s a good thing to do.

There is lots of good evidence in Ontario that black youths are less likely to be involved in crime than white youths. You would think that would mean fewer black youths were stopped than white youths, but you would be wrong: a black youth is at least three times more likely to be stopped than a white youth in Toronto and in Peel.

The simple fact is that the police—one of the most important functions in a civil society—are not subject to the laws constraining the activities of everyone else.

Police have enormous power, including the power to flaunt the law.

Posted On: October 01, 2015