In a high stakes move, the Toronto police board has passed a revised community engagement [i.e. carding] policy Thursday, rushing through a document before Chief Bill Blair leaves at the end of the month without the “progressive” citizen safeguards first sought by the board a year ago…
Board member Mayor John Tory said after the board vote that he chose to support the revised policy because it was the only way forward after an eight-month stalemate.
“That policy could not and was not operationalized,” said Tory. “Communication was diminishing, attitudes were hardening on all sides,” says Tory, although he says any suggestion that Chief Bill Blair was insubordinate were unfounded.
After dozens of prominent Torontonians stood just steps from John Tory’s second-floor city hall office to demand an end to carding, the mayor said he heard their message “very clearly.”
But on Wednesday, Tory refused to join that call, instead doubling down on his position that the practice needs reforming, not shelving.
“Work has continued virtually non-stop on improving the procedure which governs police-community engagements and relations, and though it is a complex issue I think all sides acknowledge that we are making progress,” Tory said at a press conference held inside his office. “I have always maintained that the recently-passed policy is a beginning not an end.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory has called for an end of the controversial police practice of carding, which he said has “eroded the public trust.”
“It is my intention to see carding cancelled permanently and that we start fresh,” Tory told reporters at a news conference on Sunday.
Tory said he intends to go before Toronto’s police board on June 18 and call for the practice to be eliminated.
So what happened here?
Communities of colour have been advocating for an end to carding for a very long time now. Tory was well aware of all of the allegations of racial profiling and abuse of police power. As Samuel Getachew noted back in April, when Tory and the TPSB gave the go-ahead for cops to continue with the blatantly racist practice, communities of colour, and particularly Toronto’s black community, were extremely supportive of Tory’s bid for mayor – and were now regretting it:
Mayor Tory, in endorsing the new policy, admitted racial profiling exists but nonetheless supported the policy. Tory said he has no doubt his “kids, if they were stopped in the street, they wouldn’t be treated (the way young people of colour are)”. It is well understood the reason they would be treated differently is because they have white skin. Isn’t that called white privilege, Mr. Mayor?
Funny that during the last municipal election, candidate Tory was asked, if white privilege existed. He responded how “he does not know that it does.” That should have been our warning for what was to come from this mayor. It was our chance to withdraw our support much earlier.
Since then, we’ve had Desmond Cole’s hard-hitting piece in Toronto Life on his innumerable interactions with the police, an article which generated a hell of a lot of discussion on the subject. We’ve had Jagmeet Singh, the deputy leader of Ontario’s NDP, publicly campaign for an end to carding. We’ve had activists and community advocacy groups flood a city council committee meeting to provide first-hand testimony on the way carding impacts communities of colour and immigrant communities.
None of these people were able to influence the mayor to change his mind. As recently as four days ago, Tory was trotting out his stay-the-course rhetoric, minimizing the problem and promising that better days are just around the corner. Ann Hui from the Globe tweeted that he responded to a question on abolishing carding with the snarky “I live in the real world”.
What caused Tory to change his mind? Let’s look at the Star’s article, which broke this story [emphasis added]:
The decision by Tory came at the end of a tough week where a group of his peers, former mayors, politicians and activists took the mayor by surprise with a plan to publicly issue a statement — just steps from his office door — that called for a halt to the “corrosive” practice…
That was followed by an opinion piece published in the Toronto Star by police board chair Alok Mukherjee, who stated that documenting innocent civilians was wrong and should end.
The turning point came Friday, when Tory was leaving Edmonton after attending the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Edmonton.
There, Tory got advice from other big-city mayors — including Edmonton’s Don Iveson, Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson and Ottawa’s Jim Watson — on how to move forward. Tory said the take-away was to follow his conscience.
In other words, the actual lived experiences of people of colour speaking to the injustice of being arbitrarily detained and searched and documented failed to persuade John “I don’t know if white privilege exists” Tory that anything needed to be done. But a press conference by well-connected Toronto elites and a confab with other big-city mayors was all it took to set him straight.
Let’s be real here – Tory didn’t do this out of a fit of conscience. He didn’t suddenly see the light. He did this because he didn’t want to be the last person on the wrong side of the issue. He did this because his position on carding was becoming a political liability.
Now, it’s great that he’s apparently going to move forward with a plan to end carding – but let’s not forget why, and let’s not let him get any kind of political credit for this ultimately opportunistic move.