Researchers and activists say the racial discrimination within the Canadian criminal justice system could be just as bad as the United States, but they don’t have all the statistics to get a full handle of the problem. When they ask for those numbers, Canadian police forces refuse. What are Canadian Police Trying to Hide?
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneappolis, millions of protesters around the world have marched against racism and police violence.
In Canada, we know that Indigenous and Black bodies are incarcerated at far higher rates than their white counterparts, despite making up a minority of the country’s population. But when it comes to actual police interactions -- from who gets street checked to who the police use force against -- the data is scarce.
When researchers and activists ask for those numbers, Canadian police forces refuse. We made an episode about this in June, 2017. Since this episode first aired, there have been some changes.
First of all, guest Desmond Cole published his book “The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power”
This fall, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit -- the body that investigates police interactions involving serious injury, death or sexual assault -- will start gathering race-based data, including Indigenous identity as well as ethnicity and religion.
Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director -- which looks at complaints against the police from the public-- announced this April that it was going to collect similar data. And the Toronto Police Department has said it will now collect and publicly release this data as well.
This comes after a 2018 interim report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which hired criminologist Scot Wortley to look at racial bias in policing in Toronto. His work found that Black Torontonians are 20 times more likely to be killed by Toronto police than their white neighbours. Scot’s full report is set to be released this fall.
Scot was also hired by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to look at race-based street-checks in Halifax. He found Black residents were 6 times more likely to be stopped by the Halifax Regional Police than white residents. The Province has since banned the practise of street checks, or carding, but residents say the process continues.
This pattern continues across the country. In the three years since our episode first aired, independent reviews of police practises consistently showed that Black and Indigenous Canadians are over-represented in police interactions, including street checks and use of force.
In Vancouver -- the VPD stopped Indigenous people for street checks 7 times more than the rest of the population, and black people about five times more. Edmonton, same story.
But most cities still don’t collect his data, despite rising calls to do so -- from policing, access to housing, and medical care -- as Covid-19 appears to be hitting Black and Indigenous communities at an overwhelming rate.
In this episode, we reconnect with Scot Wortley for an update, before revisiting our original broadcast, “What are Canadian Police Trying to Hide?”
Author and anti-racist activist Desmond Cole weighs in. Scot Wortley, one of Canada’s leading researchers of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, talks about how not having systematic records on anything —from police checks, to charges, to bail outcomes—has dramatically hampered criminal justice research. However, Ron Melchers, a University of Ottawa criminologist says we shouldn’t keep this data— and he calls racial profiling a media myth. Things get heated.
Recent works on race-based policing data:
- CBC. Provincial police watchdog to start collecting race-based data. Jun 11, 2020
- CBC. RCMP watchdog's misconduct reports caught in limbo, stalling their release. Jun 8, 2020
- CBC. 1 year after Wortley report, author says police reform in N.S. has long way to go. Jun 9, 2020
- Globe and Mail. NDP calls for race-based data collection to combat racism, spur change. June 1, 2020
- OIPRD Begins to Collect Race-Based Data under the Anti-Racism Act, 2017. Press Release. Apr 2, 2020
- Toronto Police Service. Race-Based Data, Press Release. 2019
- Globe and Mail. More than one-third of people shot to death over a decade by RCMP officers were Indigenous. Nov 17, 2019.
- CBC. Black people in Halifax 6 times more likely to be street checked than whites. Mar 27, 2019
- Street Checks Report. Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Mar 2019.
- Globe and Mail. Black people more likely to be injured or killed by Toronto Police officers, report finds. Dec 10, 2018.
- A Collective Impact: Interim report on the inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black persons by the Toronto Police Service. Ontario Human Rights Commission. Nov 2018.
- Globe and Mail. Report calls for changes to Edmonton police’s use of street checks. Jun 27, 2018
- Race, Crime and Justice in Canada. The John Howard Society. October 19, 2017
- Cole, Desmond. “The Skin I’m In: I’ve Been Interrogated by Police More than 50 Times—all Because I’m Black.” Toronto Life. 21 Apr. 2015.
- Melchers, Ron. “Inequality before the Law: The Canadian Experience of ‘Racial Profiling’”Royal Canadian Mounted Police: Research and Evaluation Branch
- Melchers, Ron. “Do Toronto Police Engage in Racial Profiling?”Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice; Toronto45.3 (2003): 347–366.
- Wortley, Scot, and Akwasi Owusu-bempah. “Unequal Before the Law: Immigrant and Racial Minority Perceptions of the Canadian Criminal Justice System.”Journal of International Migration and Integration; Dordrecht10.4 (2009): 447–473.