Mayor John Tory was one of five police board members who voted in favour of new police carding procedures at last night’s meeting. If you’ve been following my work, you know that carding is the extremely controversial police practice of stopping civilians who are not suspected of a crime, and documenting their personal information.
Tory, who appointed himself to the board late last year, should understand this basic definition of the carding practice. Yet mere moments after he had voted to continue carding, Tory described the same non-criminal police interaction he had just endorsed as “corrosive”. He noted the disproportionate impact carding has on black and brown residents, insisted police would never document his white children.
“I have no doubt that that is going on, and as I said, one time is too many,” said Tory of needless interactions between police and young black and brown residents. He said this as if it was news to the room full of advocates who have been making the same argument for over three years, and whose repeated requests for reform Tory had just ignored.
Does the mayor actually undersand the policy he just approved, and the context of the larger debate on biased interactions between police and racialized people? Other comments he made yesterday suggest he does not.
Tory also suggested that forcing the police to reform carding might actually be more dangerous for communities than keeping the practice, because police might resent the changes and would retaliate by harassing residents. In other words, the mayor suggested that board attempts to reform or curb carding would lead to more carding.
Below are transcribed excerpts from Tory’s speech. You can also view the tape of his remarks by clicking here (Tory’s remarks start at 3:09:11). Tory’s full remarks reveal he is more likely to placate police power than challenge it, more likely to describe police intransigence as an “impasse” for which both parties are to blame.
I’m not sure why John Tory wanted to be on the police board, but he seems an unlikely candidate to hold police to account on carding, particularly because he seems to misunderstand the issue, and his role in addressing it as a member of the police board.
“Well thank you mister Chair, and I would just…we’ve voted but I would like to put into context, certainly, my vote, and I think it’s important to do that in the context of a full and open discussion of this. First of all, I don’t doubt for a second—in fact I had a roundtable at Downsview Park about a month and a half ago, with kids from Neighbourhood Improvement Areas, and most of them are not kids [interrupted by hecklers] most of them were not, they were kids who had…they weren’t white kids, they were kids that had black or brown skin.
We spent the evening talking about a lot of different things, including jobs and so on. But when we did talk about their encounters with the police they did say that, certainly far more often than should be the case—because once is one time too many—that the nature of their encounters, and I’m sort of paraphrasing what they said, is that the windows roll down, of a police car, and a police officer says to them, “hey you, get your sorry backside over here and answer some questions.” And I have no doubt that that is going on, and as I said, one time is too many, And I have no doubt as well, that my kids, if they were stopped in the street, wouldn’t be treated that way.
I also accept the fact, as I’ve said before, that this kind of thing going on, on a continuous basis in any number of places, is corrosive—I use that word. And I mentioned this at the outset, I wanna say, and I took the care to put together some notes last night because I thought I was likely to vote in favour of the policy with the changes, that we’ve seen today. And I say this first part because I think there have been suggestions to the fact that some of us are in denial as to the existence of a problem, or are somehow unsympathetic about the problem, and I just want to say, first of all, that`s patently false.
Now, moving beyond that, I wanna put into context— and I think context has been lacking in this discussion in a lot of the commentary that we’ve all sort of seen and heard— I can only speak for myself and what was going on at the time I arrived at the police service board four months ago, and that was that there was an obvious impasse on this issue at that time.
So when we go back to the 2014 policy as was moved, that would would have taken us back to exactly the same situation we were in five or six months ago, when , yes, there was a policy, and people might have thought they liked it. As [board member] Ms. Moliner said, it became a lot more popular suddenly in the last little while. But the bottom line is that that policy could not, and was not operationalized. There was an impasse in that regard.
The policy had been approved eight months earlier, in April, a year ago from now, and nothing much had really happened. Communication, I would say—and I’ll speak only for myself—was diminishing, attitudes were hardening on all sides. Not, I don’t think, motivated by bad faith, or at all involving insubordination—I think there was no hint of that whatsoever, but I think driven by very honest and very sincere, but also very passionate difference of opinion about the law, about the practical aspects of implementing and operationalizing that policy.
And I will say, like most if not all other human beings, police leadership was probably moving more slowly in the face of this difference of opinion, than if there had of been wholehearted agreement. But I am satisfied this was not insubordination and I guess that’s just the point.
After I had been a month on the board it was obvious to me that notwithstanding all the time that was being put in, by the chief and by the members of the board and by our [legal] council, Mr. Addario, no progress was being made—none. No progress at all. We were at a complete stalemate and I think when that happens, you have two choices: you say, “that’s it”, and provoke some sort of a…I don’t know if you want to call it a confrontation, which I think would have reverberated all the way through the police service in a way that I think would have made relations worse on the street; or, do you make one more effort to see what you can achieve, and measure that result against the alternative, which was and is an impasse, and a policy vacuum, by the way?”
“…Many of the commentators have said the chief should have just been ordered to do what the board old him, and that he in turn would order the members of the police service to do what they’re told by him. And that can happen. But it’s my experience, in every single capacity that I’ve had,—as a father, as a colleague, in business and elsewhere (and I expect it’s true of police officers, I don’t know for sure)—you can order people to do things, and you will get a degree of compliance when you do that, but it will be insincere and incomplete because people are being ordered to do something.”