Pubdate: Sat, 08 Jul 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Authors: Jim Rankin, Sandro Contenta, and Andrew Bailey
Page: A1


Police stats obtained by the Star show disparity when it comes to
marijuana possession charges

Black people with no history of criminal convictions have been three
times more likely to be arrested by Toronto police for possession of
small amounts of marijuana than white people with similar backgrounds,
according to a Toronto Star analysis.

They've also been more likely to be detained for bail, the data

The disparity is largely due to targeting of Black people by Toronto
police, according to criminologists and defence lawyers interviewed by
the Star, who note that surveys show little difference in marijuana
use between Black and white people.

Anthony Morgan, a human rights lawyer and community activist, called
the statistics "another example of the failed war on drugs."

As Canada moves toward the legalization of marijuana, the Star
examined 10 years' worth of Toronto Police Service marijuana arrest
and charge data, obtained in a freedom-of-information request.

 From 2003 to 2013, Toronto police arrested 11,299 people whose skin
colour was noted - and who had no prior convictions - for possessing
up to 30 grams of marijuana. These individuals were not on parole or
probation when arrested.

According to how police recorded skin colour, 25.2 per cent of those
people were Black, 52.8 per cent were white, 15.7 per cent were brown,
and 6.3 per cent were categorized as "other."

For Black people, the rate of arrest is significantly higher than
their proportion of Toronto's population in the 2006 census, which is
8.4 per cent. Whites represented 53.1 per cent of people in the city.

"I can't say I'm surprised by the glaring disproportionality," says
Danardo Jones, director of legal services at the African Canadian
Legal Clinic, "but these are just startling numbers."

The Star matched "brown" and "other" skin colour categories used by
police with ethnic backgrounds used by Statistics Canada. That put the
city's "brown" skinned population at 14.7 per cent and those in the
"other" category at 23.8 per cent.

Toronto police did not dispute the Star's analysis but in an email
response, the service said it continues to believe the Star's use of
census data for comparison to carding and charge data is "misleading."
"This is not to suggest that there is not a continued need for
education and training on the issue of disparity and fair and
impartial policing, of which the TPS is committed," police said in the

The police marijuana data also indicates Black people are more likely
to receive different treatment after an arrest - a finding consistent
with Star analyses that date back to 2002.

Most of the 11,299 people without prior convictions were released at
the scene when caught with small amounts of marijuana. But 15.2 per
cent of Black people - the highest rate among the racial groups - were
detained for a bail hearing. That compares to only 6.4 per cent of

The data released to the Star does not indicate whether the marijuana
charges were accompanied by a second, more serious offence, which can
affect how people are released or detained. It's likely that people
held for bail are facing another charge.

In response to Star queries, police said 54 per cent of the marijuana
possession arrests in the data involved at least one other criminal

Other discretionary factors that can impact not being released at the
scene or being held for bail include having been stopped by police
before (carding), no ID, no fixed address, having been let go once
already on a possession arrest, attitude, where you were stopped and
who you were with. The data doesn't indicate these things.

Young people, ages 12 to 18, represent 22 per cent of arrests for
possession between 2003 and 2013.

The disparity in police treatment is even greater when it comes to
youth with no prior convictions who are 12-18. Among Black kids, the
proportion detained for bail remains at 15 per cent. But the rate for
white kids falls to 3.2 per cent.

Morgan, a lawyer with Falconers LLP, describes the "over-policing" of
Black people as a consequence of racism.

Yet, looking at the proportions of people of all ages released
unconditionally - meaning a marijuana offence was noted in a police
database but the charge not formally laid - there was little
difference by skin colour.

About one in five people arrested were released unconditionally with
no charge, say police.

The 2015 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey, conducted by the Centre for
Addiction and Mental Health, found 19 per cent of 1,000 Toronto high
school students reported using cannabis at least once in the past
year. Of those, 39 per cent were white; 14 per cent Black; and 47 per
cent "other" or mixed race. (The Black proportion for ages 12-18 in
the 2006 census was 12 per cent.)

"There's very little evidence to suggest that Black people actually
use more drugs," says Scot Wortley, a University of Toronto
criminology professor, whose Toronto Youth Crime Victimization Survey
in 2000 showed similar marijuana use for Black and white youth.

If monitoring by law enforcement were equal, you would expect similar
charge rates for Black and white people, Wortley adds.

Yet an analysis of all marijuana possession offences noted in the
police data from 2003 to 2013 reveals greater disproportionate results.

A third of the 40,635 marijuana charges during that decade - 33.8 per
cent - were against Black people. The charges were for possession of
no more than 30 grams, and for possession for the purpose of

Marijuana possession arrests and offences noted in the data steadily
increased during that decade. The trend parallels the police practice
of "carding" people not involved in crimes. A 2010 Star investigation
found that Black people in Toronto are 3.2 times more likely to be
stopped, questioned and documented by police than white people. The
ratio remained constant in three subsequent Star examinations of
carding data.

"I think the overlap is clear," Jones, of the African Canadian Legal
Clinic, says of the rise in carding and marijuana charges. "If you
over-police, or you over-surveil, you are going to find particular
kinds of offences kind of shoot up."


The Star shared its analysis with Toronto police in May and provided
an updated version in early June, along with findings it sought
comment on. In late June, the service emailed a response that did not
address most areas the Star sought comment on.

Aggregate stats for the years after the decade covered in the data,
released to the Star by police, show marijuana charges peaked in 2012,
at 5,200, and decreased steadily through 2016, when only 2,303 were

"This (decrease) can be attributed to a number of factors including a
decrease in the number of interactions police are having with the
community and the reassignment of resources to other (illegal drug)
priorities, such as trafficking and other substances," the service
said in the email.

"It is also possible that officers are choosing to exercise their
discretion when it comes to arresting individuals for marijuana
possession," it continued. "Generally speaking, more of that can be
expected as the TPS uses a diversion program specific to young people
who are found to be committing less serious crimes.

"However, as long as the possession of marijuana continues to be
illegal, the Service will continue to lay charges as

Criminal defence lawyers and criminologists say it's no coincidence
that marijuana charges increased along with carding stops during the
decade covered by the data. The stops often result in searches, and
charges if marijuana is found.

The now-disbanded Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS),
a police tactical unit set up in 2005, carded Black people more
disproportionately than any other police unit. The provincially funded
program was deployed in neighbourhoods where recent violence had taken
place, and where populations tend to be poorer and more diverse.

"It's really sad when you realize the effects of TAVIS and what they
call pro-active community policing," says Daniel Brown, a Toronto
lawyer who has regularly defended clients on marijuana charges. "What
it's really done is criminalize an entire generation of young Black
males, over something that's now on the verge of being legal.

"What TAVIS taught officers to do is shake down young black males,
because if you look hard enough you're probably going to find
something," he adds.

"They didn't go into the parks of Forest Hill to shake down the rich
white kids. They spent their time in the parks and community centres
of the Jane and Finch corridor, and it was like shooting fish in a

The data obtained by the Star shows that neighbourhoods with the
fewest marijuana charges are typically whiter and wealthier. Kofi Hope
argues pot smoking in these places has gained a "quasi legalized"
status, with police often saying little more than "put it out."

"There is not the same interest of police in controlling young people
in Rosedale or Forest Hill," says Hope, executive director of the CEE
Centre for Young Black Professionals, which provides skills training
and career development programs for young Black people.

Liberal MP Bill Blair, police chief in Toronto during most of the time
period covered by the marijuana data, has in his new role as the
government's point person on legalization acknowledged the

"I think there's a recognition that the current enforcement
disproportionately impacts poor neighbourhoods and racialized
communities, and there's something unjust about that," Blair was
quoted as saying in a 2016 Maclean's profile. He has also described
the disparity as "one of the great injustices in this country."

The Star provided Blair, parliamentary secretary to the justice
minister and attorney general, a copy of the marijuana analysis in
early June and asked for an interview. At publication time, he had not

The government has so far released no plans regarding Canadians
saddled with criminal records because of marijuana.

High numbers of marijuana charges and high levels of carding generally
overlap in the city's poorer, more diverse neighbourhoods, the Star
analysis found. Areas that are wealthier and whiter see lower levels
of both.

"One of the things I find most troubling, although not surprising, is
that cannabis possession arrests increased in tandem with the practice
of carding in Toronto," says Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant
sociology professor at the University of Toronto with an extensive
background in criminology. Like others interviewed for this story, the
Star shared with him its analysis.

Carding, he notes, was used as a measure of performance and officers
professionally benefited from filling out more contact cards and were
encouraged to do so by their superiors.

"As carding was so concentrated among the poor and racialized, they
have disproportionately experienced the negative consequences -
including criminalization," says Owusu-Bempah. "So what we have is a
situation where police officers benefited personally from the further
marginalization of vulnerable Torontonians."

Between 2003 and 2010, the neighbourhood where Toronto residents were
most likely to be arrested for possession was in police patrol zone
144, on the western edge of downtown. (Police reclassified and
reshaped some zone boundaries in 2011, including zone 144, making it
difficult to examine and compare anything after 2010.) Police
documented at least 580 pot possession offences in the area bordered
by King St. W. to the south, Bloor St. W. to the north, Bathurst St.
to the west and Spadina Ave. to the east. It is home to Kensington
Market, Chinatown, hip Queen St. W. and Alexandra Park, a community
that has struggled with drugs and violence.

One of more than 70 police patrol zones in the city, the area is also
where police were busy carding people, on average, about 15 times each
day, from 2008 to 2013. The Black population is 7 per cent, white 53
per cent in the zone, which attracts a lot of people from other areas.

Alexandra Park, a rent-geared-to-income community for much of its
history, is a socially vibrant place where people "live a lot of their
lives in the outdoor spaces," says Bridget Sinclair, director of
community services at St. Stephen's Community House. It also has a
history of tension with police.

In late 2009 and into 2010, police kept close watch on a dispute
between rival gangs - one based in Alexandra Park, the other in Regent
Park. Members of both gangs were "actively involved in drug
trafficking, assaults, robberies and firearms-related offences,"
according to minutes of a community police liaison committee. The
dispute played a role in a 2012 shooting at the Eaton Centre that
claimed two lives and injured six.

Police flooded the area with officers, including those from

TAVIS was "very much a part of the neighbourhood in ways that were not
positive for many people," says Sinclair, whose organization provides
supports to Alexandra Park residents. "And there were some very big
incidents that happened between police and young people during the
years that data has been collected."

Much has changed since then, including a redevelopment project that
has displaced many of the subsidized housing residents whose homes
were demolished or renovated, and market-priced condos built.

A dramatic growth in marijuana dispensaries in the past two years has
attracted partiers from the nearby Entertainment District and ensured
a visible police presence. But Sinclair says police are trying to
rebuild their relationship with the community.

In June, the provincial government, in conjunction with Toronto
police, announced funding for a "pre-charge" diversion program that
allows officers discretion in laying charges. Youth would avoid court
and a record by working in community-based programs. St. Stephen's is
one of those programs.

The area of the city with the next highest number of pot possession
charges between 2003 and 2010 is zone 121, a pocket of the Weston-Mt.
Dennis neighbourhood that has, proportionately, the largest Black
population in the city at 27 per cent, and where police also carded
heavily. Police averaged 22 contact cards per day from 2008 to 2013.
It was the highest carded area in 2009 and 2010, with close to 30
contact cards filled out each day. From 2003 to 2010, police recorded
550 pot possession offences in the zone.

In 2012, the Star profiled the neighbourhood that had been plagued by
gun homicides and targeted by the TAVIS unit.

The relationship between youth and police was "toxic," said one youth
worker at the time. Mark Saunders, now Toronto's police chief, had
been brought in to run 12 Division, which includes zone 121. Violent
crime decreased but tensions ran high, with young people reporting
they were routinely stopped. Often, the stops involved searches.

Saunders was working on improving relations.

"I get it when you're talking about toxic," Saunders told the Star in
2012. "But I'm getting phone calls from people who are very excited.
They're going, 'Great, when are you coming out into the community?'

By mid-2013, carding had plummeted amid increasing controversy and a
rule that required police to issue a carding "receipt." The practice
was suspended Jan. 1, 2015, by Saunders's then boss, Blair. New
provincial carding regulations kicked in this year.

 From 2003 to 2013, police noted only 111 marijuana possession charges
in patrol zone 325, the lowest number. The north Toronto area includes
Hoggs Hollow, home to multi-million-dollar homes, and the Rosedale
Golf Club. Nearly 80 per cent of the people who live there are white.
Between 2008 and 2013, police carded about four people a day.

The second lowest number of marijuana charges noted - 123 over 10
years - was in zone 533, which includes tony Yorkville and university
frat houses. Three-quarters of residents are white. Police carded on
average 13 people a day between 2008 and 2013.

Annamaria Enenajor, a Toronto criminal defence lawyer with a focus on
civil rights, sees what she describes as policing bias on her walks to
her office near University of Toronto student housing.

"I don't see them doing raids on those frat houses," she says. "It's
all drunken white boys over there. I walk by and I definitely smell

"It comes from the legacy of racism and the reality of racism," she
adds. "Mistakes by white Canadians are forgivable and mistakes by
Black Canadians are deviant and require punishment."

Morgan says the drug statistics "expose what many in and outside of
Black communities have recognized as a war on Blacks."

He notes that for many Black teens, getting searched for marijuana is
their first interaction with authorities. Those charged often can't
afford a lawyer and rarely get the option of settling their charge
with a donation to charity, for example.

They instead appear in a courtroom where everyone, from the judge to
the administrative clerk, tends to be white. "The sense that 'the
system is out to get me' ends up having a very visual representation,"
Morgan says.

Court appearances get missed and bail conditions broken, often
something as minor as breaking curfew by a half-hour. That forces a
downward spiral into the justice system followed by more serious
charges, and the humiliation and possible job loss that comes with
jail time.

A criminal record "further entrenches an underclass status," Morgan
says. "It's almost like a scarlet letter that they feel they carry
around. And it increases the sense of being watched and targeted by
systems, a sense that systems are waiting for them to fail."

- ------------------------------------------

In tomorrow's Star

As legalization looms, calls for amnesty



The Star obtained Toronto Police Service marijuana possession arrest
and charge data for 2003 to 2013 in a freedom-of-information request.

The data includes information about 34,646 arrests of 27,635
individuals, and 40,634 associated offences for simple possession and
possession for the purpose of trafficking. Some people were arrested
multiple times for marijuana offences over the timeframe examined.

Instead of names, police released randomly generated unique numbers
for individuals. Included in the data are gender, age, skin colour,
exact charge, the patrol area where the arrest occurred and how people
were released. Also included were indicators for whether people had
previous convictions, or were on bail, probation or parole at time of

Police identify people as having one of four skin colours (black,
brown, white and other). The Star compared arrest and charge rates by
skin colour to Toronto's population, using Statistics Canada data from
the 2006 census. This is far from perfect, since the census data does
not have categories for "brown" and "other" in its ethnic and racial

As the Star has done numerous times since a groundbreaking 2002 series
into race, policing and crime in Toronto, and subsequent examinations
of carding data, ethnicities and racial categories were placed into
either "brown" or "other" based on clues in the police data, including
birth countries where the country was other than Canada.

Associated non-marijuana charges were not included in the data. For
example, if an individual was simultaneously charged with simple
possession and a firearms offence, the firearms offence is not present
in the data requested. An associated, more serious charge can affect
how an individual is released, or held for a bail hearing.

Also not included in the data are outcomes for cases that headed to
court, which the police do not track.

Data for the year 2013 is incomplete, as the police service switched
over to a new records management system late that year. That was the
cut-off point for the Star's request.

The Star shared its findings with police before publication. Police
expressed no concerns with the analysis but have historically been
critical of the Star for using census data for baseline comparisons.
In many such comparisons, it is the only baseline available.

In an emailed response, the service said it "continues to believe the
comparison between the ethnicity of those charged with a crime and the
ethnicity breakdown of the city based on census data is

The Star has made available a detailed findings package, by PDF, at To obtain the underlying dataset, contact reporter Jim
Rankin at  ---
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