Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Julian Falconer. I'm a human rights lawyer. I've dedicated my 30-year career to advocating and writing on issues of racism in policing. I'm the founding partner of Falconers LLP, a law firm with offices in Toronto, Thunder Bay and Manitoulin. We have a long history of representing victims of police racism and violence in Ontario. I am honoured to attend before this Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security as part of your sessions on systemic racism in policing in Canada.
Of course, the recognition of the existence of systemic racism in policing in Canada means little more than accepting that racism pervades all corners of Canadian society and that it should hardly be a surprise that our policing institutions are no exception. As a bencher for the Law Society of Ontario, I'm embarrassed to admit that there remain many leaders in our profession—a significant number of my fellow benchers, to be honest—who continue to deny the existence of systemic racism in the legal profession. Obviously, there's no prospect of change if those in a position of power and privilege deny the existence of a problem. The very fact of the title of these committee meetings is testament to how far we have come in terms of dialogue.
I understand the time constraints, so I want to very quickly start with a bit of a caution and sound a cautionary note for a person who's in my business.
I'm fortunate in the work I do. Far from only being exposed to bad policing, I have the honour of acting for a number of indigenous police services in the province of Ontario. I believe fundamentally that policing has an essential role in our society as part of the social contract to keep all of us safe. Our police officers simply represent a microcosm of the entirety of society. They are our brothers, our sisters, our cousins. Like the rest of us, police officers have the right to be safe and go home to their families.
This submission focuses on systemic racism, and by necessity it focuses on bad policing. Make no mistake about it, there is good policing, but our failure to effectively address bad policing overshadows and risks continuing to overshadow good policing. The George Floyd tragedy in the U.S. has given rise to an awakening in this country. The very fact that these committee sessions are dedicated to the topic of systemic racism in policing represents an important breakthrough in dialogue. While I feel it is incumbent on me to recognize this, I wish to state from the outset that dialogue is not enough. What plagues us is a lack of change, a lack of progress and an inability as agents of change to effect real, new outcomes. We have an inability to actually have agents of change influence outcomes.
My life's work has been legal advocacy in the battle against racism and social injustice in its many forms. At Falconers LLP, our work spans three decades. We have provided services to a diverse range of clientele whose differences have spanned race, ethnicity, mental health and culture. I'd like to think of myself and my team as agents of change. I've had the honour of working on such cases as the shooting deaths of Lester Donaldson, Wayne Williams, Edmond Yu and Sammy Yatim. I have represented the family of Ashley Smith. I have acted for Maher Arar. Since 2008, I've had the honour of representing various levels of indigenous governments, members of indigenous communities and indigenous police services.
In all this time, in all of these battles, I've learned that one famous and undeniable French expression applies perfectly.
I am just a “petit gars de Mont-Saint-Hilaire”. As they say there: “plus ça change, plus c'est pareil”.
I travel the provinces of Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba under my own steam in a small four-seater plane that we like to call Falconair. As a lawyer and bush pilot, much of my time is spent flying in the north. I've seen first-hand the highs and lows of the battles against systemic racism. Its manifestations through the justice system as a whole, whether we are speaking about education, health, child welfare or our justice system, are apparent, and they remain unchanged. While we're able to talk—the talk has started to occur—we are far from able to walk the walk. Even when the ugly truth of systemic racism is seen and agents of oppression are held accountable, there's no mechanism to enforce change. I've seen this.
I saw this in Thunder Bay, when in 2018 the Office of the Independent Police Review Director made a historic finding through a report entitled “Broken Trust”, which I commend to you as committee members. That report, “Broken Trust”, made a finding that an entire police service suffered from systemic racism and that its incompetent investigations of indigenous deaths were attributable not just to a lack of resources or a lack of skills but also to racism that pervaded every level of the service. In my career, this has been the most damning finding in relation to a police service.
Yet here we sit in 2020, and I say this to you: Nothing has changed. Why? Why is it that we seem unable to get out of our own way? I say the reason is that we are unable to actually effect real change.
On page 3 of my submission—I'm well aware of the fact that I am moving along in time—I point out that there is a way to start taking concrete action so that words translate into change. The first thing I want to point out is the concept of mobile crisis teams and the concept that police left on their own, rank-and-file police officers left on their own to de-escalate the situation, doesn't work. People die unnecessarily.
When you're somewhat of an old fart like me, you've been around for long enough. Three decades, 28 years, ago at the inquest into the death of Lester Donaldson, in 1992, we looked at the importance of having mobile crisis teams available. In 1994.... I attach these recommendations in the footnotes. They recommend the creation of a crisis intervention team with a 24-hour response time. It still doesn't exist in the form of a 24-hour response time in Toronto.
I've seen it repeatedly, for instance with Edmond Yu and Sammy Yatim. I've seen it over and over again. We're seeing it right now in Toronto, in Mississauga, with deaths. We are unable to implement and reallocate our resources so that de-escalation, wellness checks and all of the features of keeping people alive are operating. I would say that the reason is that we put so many resources into a militaristic concept of policing, into creating an occupying force in communities, that we are unable to wrap our minds around creating compassionate policing.
What does that mean? It's not some platitude. It means you take mental health professionals and you team them up with police officers interested in de-escalation. You create mobile crisis teams. These teams are brought in not only when the police “have the situation under control”; they're brought in to de-escalate.
Right now, the police culture is unable to wrap its mind around this. They believe these teams should be used only after they, the experts, have brought the situation under control. It's a mistake.