There is much evidence that the likelihood of being arrested for or charged with a crime is affected by skin colour, location, and other factors. This post illustrating that inequality is drawn from a Toronto Star feature on July 6, 2017. It has been edited for length; the original article has additional material.
Toronto marijuana arrests reveal ‘startling’ racial divide
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 show.
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.
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.
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 were detained for a bail hearing, compared with only 6.4 per cent of whites.
[The data do not indicate whether those arrested had other charges or criminal records, which might have affected their likelihood of getting bail.]
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 reasons why some people are released without charge are not known. The data obtained by the Star shows that neighbourhoods with the fewest marijuana charges are typically whiter and wealthier.
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.
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.)