By Patrick Hunter
Wednesday November 02 2016
By PATRICK HUNTER
There is a problem with the Ottawa Police Service. Well, to be fair, there are problems with all police services and much of it has to do with race. With the Ottawa Police Service, there have been more than a few incidents which call into question their behaviour.
In one situation there was a young Black woman who was, as it turned out, wrongly arrested and considerably mistreated while in their custody. A suit against that police service has apparently been settled out of court.
Currently, another woman is suing the service for similar treatment in which she was apparently stripped and left naked in a cell.
Then there is the death of Abdirahman Abdi following a confrontation with members of the Ottawa Police Service.
And, another officer, a sergeant, no less, has been charged for posting racist comments about the death of an Inuk artist.
There is an old saying that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Based on the above, it does not mean that the Ottawa police are racist. It does mean however that, like most institutions like this, there is an element of conduct that may be racially motivated and is significant enough to uproot.
Last week, researchers from York University released a report on race data and traffic stops collected by the Ottawa Police between 2013 and 2015. The report was undertaken as part of a settlement between the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and the Ottawa Police Service. In 2005, Chad Aiken was pulled over by an Ottawa Police officer while driving his mother’s Mercedes-Benz. That led to a lawsuit of which this study was part of the settlement.
So, the researchers’ findings show that Middle Easterners and Black people faced disproportionately higher incidents of traffic stops based on their “respective driver population” in Ottawa. The identification of the driver is based on the officer’s perception of their race or ethnicity. I take this to mean that while there were high incidents of traffic stops particularly among these groups, it wasn’t overboard.
To skip to the punchline, the researchers found that they could not confirm that there is racial profiling in the service without further, more detailed research. I guess it’s like when you catch a fish that is below the legal limits you are expected to throw that fish back.
During the collecting period, there were about 82,000 traffic stops of which about 80,000, or 97 per cent, were for “provincial or municipal offenses”. These stops did not show any disproportional manner for racialized groups. But then they note that the “criminal offences” reason was used disproportionately for five of the six racial groups (Indigenous groups was too low to draw a conclusion) when compared to White stops. Similarly, they point out that the “suspicious activities” reason was used disproportionately for racialized groups.
Am I really drawing a wrong conclusion here that the latter two reasons fall very clearly into a pattern of racial profiling; that “criminal offences” and “suspicious activities” and especially the latter, are regular catch phrasing to cover police stops?
Well, let’s look a bit further. Under the heading of outcomes of traffic stops, the researchers found that all race groups received “similar proportions of charges and warnings after traffic stops”. However, they also found that racialized groups “experienced disproportionately high incidences of ‘final (no action)’ outcomes”. In other words, no charges were laid, and I presume no warnings given. Are these part of the “suspicious activities” stops; like too expensive a car for a Black person?
I can fully understand that researchers have to abide by the results to what their statistics point. For the rest of us, racialized groups and Indigenous peoples, we see that these results fall into a set pattern that we have come to know and identify as racial profiling.
Charles Bordeleau, the Ottawa chief of police, notes in a release: “We are committed to working with the community and our members to better understand the information and develop an action plan that contributes to our bias-neutral policing efforts”.
I am reminded of then Chief Julian Fantino’s reaction to the Toronto Star’s racial profiling investigation in 2002. He and other police executives were at pains in trying to redefine the problem from “racial profiling” to “bias policing” (or bias-free policing). “Bias-neutral policing” is new coinage for me.
There was no indication of commitment from the chief or the Board chair that the data collection would continue or that additional research, as suggested by the researchers, would be undertaken. Only that community engagement between the service and community will continue. I hope the Ottawa community will ensure that this report isn’t swept aside.
Email: email@example.com / Twitter: @pghntr
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