On March 17, 2020, the Province of Ontario enacted a declaration of emergency to protect the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the Provincial Emergency Orders, on March 23, 2020, the City of Toronto declared a State of Emergency.

On April 2 and 3, 2020, By-law 342-2020 (to amend By-law 322-2020 and By-law 323-2020), was passed to amend the Parks Bylaw and the Public Squares Bylaw. The City’s Municipal Licensing & Standards (ML&S) division provides bylaw administration and enforcement services, primarily through Bylaw Enforcement Officers (BEOs). More information about enforcement services is available at COVID-19: Orders and Bylaws.

The City received complaints about an enforcement incident that occurred in High Park on April 8, 2020. The complainant, who identifies as a Black male, alleged that he was walking in the park with his partner, a white female, when they were approached by a Bylaw Enforcement Officer regarding the enforcement of physical distancing regulations. The complainant alleged he was racially profiled and targeted for enforcement due to his race, and that the BEO was aggressive, unprofessional and had followed him and then called the police.

The Investigation

After ML&S received the complaints, the City’s Human Rights Office (HRO) conducted an investigation. The HRO provides confidential advice and impartially explores allegations of harassment and discrimination related to City employees and residents. The focus of the HRO is to prevent, correct and remedy harassing or discriminatory behaviours that are contrary to the City’s Human Rights and Anti-Harassment-Discrimination Policy (HRAP). The HRO does not advocate, act on behalf of or represent any party in a dispute.

The HRO interviewed the parties and witnesses, and reviewed documentary evidence and video footage of the incident provided by witnesses. The investigation found that the BEO’s actions singled out, racially profiled and racially discriminated against the complainant, contrary to the City’s HRAP. The BEO involved in this incident is no longer employed by the City of Toronto.

The City was also directed to develop policies, procedures and guidelines around enforcement that would ensure effective accountability, provide data on enforcement of racialized people, and ensure that BEOs are required to take refresher training on human rights issues every year.

The Centennial Park enforcement incident occurred on June 16, 2020. The two complainants, who identify as Black and female, alleged that they were exercising in the Centennial Park stadium when they learned that a Bylaw Enforcement Officer wanted them to leave. The complainants alleged that the BEO targeted them for greater scrutiny than others who had also been exercising in the stadium, acted unprofessionally, treated them differently than other white individuals in the area, made comments about them being shot for trespass, and tried to take a picture of their vehicle’s licence plate as they were leaving.

The Investigation

After receiving the complaints, the City immediately initiated an investigation into this matter and the BEO involved in the incident was removed from duty pending the outcome of the investigation. The City retained an external, neutral investigator – a former Associate Chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The focus of the investigation was to determine whether or not the BEO engaged in harassing or discriminatory behaviour in violation of the City’s Human Rights and Anti-Harassment-Discrimination Policy and the Toronto Public Service Bylaw.

The investigator interviewed the parties and witnesses, reviewed documentary evidence and video footage provided by the complainants, and visited the location of the incident. The investigator concluded that the BEO singled out the complainants, engaged in anti-Black racism, and acted contrary to the City’s HRAP and the Public Service Bylaw. The BEO involved in this incident is no longer employed by the City of Toronto.

The City was also directed to:

  • Clarify written reporting instructions to BEOs to include information about
    • resident allegations of harassment or discrimination,
    • any incidents that put the wellbeing of minors or vulnerable people at risk,
    • the risk of media and public attention on the conduct of a BEO.
  • Develop hiring criteria that prioritizes skills such as emotional acuity, conflict resolution and commitment to upholding the City’s values of dignity, respect, diversity and inclusion.
  • Provide training to BEOs on the appropriate way to handle confrontations with the public, along with scripts to be used to educate and caution. This could include enhanced regular training and resources on de-escalation techniques and on checking unconscious biases.
  • Explore additional opportunities to monitor the performance of BEOs and perform annual assessments.

Providing fair, equitable, non-discriminatory and inclusive service is a core objective of the Municipal Licensing & Standards division. From 2020, ML&S has renewed its focus on creating an inclusive and equitable work environment and customer service delivery by providing enhanced learning opportunities and staff resources. This includes:

  • Zero Tolerance: On October 20, 2021, ML&S shared communications with staff clarifying that “zero tolerance” is an unacceptable, unclear and unfair enforcement approach. This term is not used in any enforcement policies, procedures, guidelines or training materials.
  • Training for equitable enforcement: A fair and equitable enforcement curriculum will be offered to better support enforcement staff to deliver service and the appropriate use of discretion in achieving equitable outcomes. The training was launched on February 9, 2022 and ML&S enforcement staff will complete the training by end of May 2022.
  • Increased staff resources: ML&S continues to invest in dedicated staff resources towards a fair and equitable work plan focused on enhanced training, working groups and engagement opportunities.
  • Enhanced communications on equity and inclusion: Divisional communications related to equity and inclusion were increased through a dedicated intranet page for ML&S staff, weekly divisional newsletters, bulletins, daily briefings and one-on-one instruction to clarify the fair and equitable approach to enforcement.
  • Inclusion of partner insights: ML&S continues to engage with internal divisions, as well as partners from Toronto Police Service and Toronto Transit Commission to ensure insights on working with diverse communities are included in strategies, engagement and learning opportunities.

In addition, ML&S is developing long-term strategies to enhance clarity in existing staff policies and procedures to improve opportunities for community engagement, and to promote transparency and public confidence.

ML&S continues to align with the City’s corporate strategies, including the City’s Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism and Data for Equity Strategy, and adhere to corporate wide policies related to fair and equitable treatment and human rights such as the City’s Human Rights Anti-Harassment and Discrimination Policy, Hate Activity Policy, Toronto Public Service Bylaw, and other accommodation guidelines. The division remains dedicated to continuous improvement of enforcement strategies.