Last week, Marijuana.com reported on the disproportionate number of cannabis possession arrests of Black people in Toronto. Data from a ten-year period, released by the Toronto Star, showed that people of color were three times more likely to be arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
The findings led to a public meeting between the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition and the Toronto Police Services Board, where deputations were heard regarding the fact-based discrimination allegations.
During the meeting, former Toronto Mayor John Sewell suggested the police should not be allowed to lay charges on any individual without consulting a Crown attorney first. This practice is conducted in three other Canadian provinces, resulting in a 20-percent annual reduction in the number of charges laid.
Marijuana.com caught up with Shawn Richard, president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) to discuss other ways this behavior can be dealt with.
“I’m not an expert on statistics, however, I can tell you that the [arrest] numbers appear consistent with the Cole Gittens Report on systemic discrimination,” said Richard. “The report didn’t speak [directly] to cannabis, but they did deal with drug charges. What they found was that police were twice as likely to release a White person found with drugs than they were to release a Black person.”
The Cole Gittens report is a research project ordered by the Ontario New Democratic Party in 1993. Commissioners Margaret Gittens and Judge David Cole listened to three years of deputations and collected mountains of data to “inquire into and make recommendations about the extent to which criminal justice practices, procedures and policy reflect systemic racism.”
Richard went on to add that in the Cole Gittens Report, a number of effective suggestions were made:
Upon arrival at a police station with a detained person, an arresting officer be required to complete a form explaining why the accused has not been released. The form should be countersigned by the officer in charge.
An officer in charge who decides not to release the accused be required to record an explanation of the decision on the form used by the arresting officer. The officer in charge should also be required to explain the reason for detention to the accused and provide an opportunity to respond. Any response by an accused should be recorded on the same form as the reasons given by the police officers.
Crown attorneys at the bail hearing be required to disclose to defense or duty counsel the written police explanations for using arrest and detention powers, as well as the response, if any, of the accused.
Police explanations for detention and responses of accused persons be videotaped whenever possible. The existence of such a videotape should be disclosed in writing to Crown counsel at the bail hearing, who in turn should be required to disclose it to duty or defense counsel.
Although Richard agrees that the information is a tad dated due to the fact that the study is over 20 years old, he believes the suggestions put forth are applicable today.
As for former Mayor John Sewell’s suggestion of having a Crown prosecutor sign off on charges before they can be laid, Richard says that it’s a recommendation “worth exploring.” He went on to state that to his knowledge, none of the suggestions put forth in the 1995 report have been implemented by police.
When asked why, Richard simply stated, “I don’t know, but we’re trying to find out.”