Statement: Promoting equality and justice in Canadian public institutions, including policing

Friday, July 3, 2020

The police killing of George Floyd is no longer the most recent act of lethal anti-Black violence by police. The death in Toronto of Regis Korchinski Paquet remains under investigation. The police killings of Chantel Moore, Rod Levi, D’Andre Campbell, Andrew Loku, Stephon Clark and Ejaz Choudry, and the innumerable acts of violence and brutality inflicted on so many others in this country, are testament to the failure of our police system to equally serve and protect those among us who are Black or Indigenous. Canada is different from the United States, but it is not exceptional. With these reminders of Canada’s history of state violence and ongoing forms of inequality, the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies (CrimSL) at the University of Toronto stands in support of individuals and social movements that insist on accountability for police violence and the implementation of strategies to address structures of inequality.  

We at CrimSL are centrally concerned with the exercise of state power through legal regulation and state institutions, as well as the way that such forms of power circulate in daily life. This includes criminal justice, the role of police, and the embedded nature of racism and racial subordination in our society. One cannot study policing, or indeed any dimension of the criminal justice system in Canada, without confronting anti-Black racism, and racism against Indigenous peoples. Such realities shape Canadian life and state institutions in some of the most mundane yet tragic ways.

The legacies of racial inequality and the daily harm of racism mean that disproportionate infliction of violence against Black people is not unprecedented. Today, what is unprecedented is the public demand by a wide range of people globally that things must change. We are encouraged by the scale of the current uprising, led by Black Lives Matter and joined by millions, which insists that systemic racism warrants nothing less than systemic change. CrimSL has a long history of addressing the complexity and urgency of criminal justice reform as both a theoretical and practical task. Some of the most compelling evidence documenting anti-Black racism in policing – including profiling, carding, street checks, and lethal and non-lethal violence — has been produced by scholars at CrimSL.  

As a Centre, we join the call for equality and promotion of justice within our public institutions. We commit to fulfilling our role as scholars and teachers within and outside the university. Faculty and graduate students at CrimSL engage in public education and advocacy through media, public inquiries, submissions to government, and other forums. We will continue to document how structural racism and bias impact criminal justice decision-making and other life outcomes. And we will continue to promote data transparency, democratic governance and police accountability. 

Police defunding, detasking and demilitarization, as well as policing reforms, are not new ideas to academics and activists, but today they resonate in the mainstream like never before. It is incumbent on us as scholars to seize the moment and to supply the data, evidence, and analysis that can inform sound policy directed at diminishing racism and advancing the goals of equality and justice. This also requires us to expose and oppose measures that simply perpetuate existing deficiencies.  

We will also be consulting with faculty, students, and staff in the coming months to expand and deepen our engagement externally with the wider community and internally, within the Centre and the University. We are mindful of the damage and burden that anti-Black racism inflicts on Black people – including our students, faculty and staff — and that all of us are implicated in the system that perpetuates it.

We acknowledge that solidarity is measured in action, not just words. Here are a few things we have done so far as a collective: 

  • On June 19, we convened a public forum on race and policing, entitled ‘Unsettling Racism in the Present, Imagining Different Futures,’ in which colleagues shared insights from their own research and experience on racism, policing and protest in this moment. We are planning future forums on similar themes. 
  • A letter written by a colleague and signed by several others calls on municipal officials to show courage in selecting a new Chief of Police, and to adopt a process that gives social service agencies, community groups and civil society a place at the table in determining the future of policing. 
  • We will dedicate a special issue of Criminological Highlights to research relevant to the dimensions of anti-Black racism and criminal justice. 

Internally, we will intensify our efforts foster an inclusive, supportive anti-racist ethos within CrimSL and to recruit, support and retain Black and Indigenous students, faculty and staff.  

We know that there is work ahead to be done, and we will continue to commit to collaborating as a community to find ways to fight racism and inequality, in our own backyard and beyond.