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 shows.
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 email.
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 whites.
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 charge.