3. Key findings that are indicative of racial profiling

From the OHRC’s perspective, the York University researchers’ findings are highly consistent with the phenomenon of racial profiling. Over-representation of various racialized groups and sub-groups (broken down by sex and age) exists when looking at traffic stops generally, the reason for the stop, the outcome of the stop and the police district where the stop took place. In stating their conclusions about the disproportionately high incidence of traffic stops of various race sub-groups in the six police districts, the researchers note that “these anomalies are extensive in number and severe in disproportionality.”[21]

These disproportionalities exist despite some officers acknowledging that they failed to correctly enter the race data due to concerns about how it would affect their employment.[22]

3.1. Traffic stops

Alarmingly, Black and Middle Eastern drivers, regardless of their sex and age, experienced disproportionately high incidences of traffic stops. Middle Eastern drivers were stopped 3.3 times more than their proportion in the driving population. Black drivers were stopped 2.3 times more than their proportion in the driving population.

The researchers also conclude that there is a clear relationship between race, sex, age and traffic stops.[23] Aside from Indigenous peoples, young men aged 16-24 of all racial groups, including White people, had disproportionately high incidences of traffic stops. For some racial groups, this disproportionality was more extreme than for others. Middle Eastern male young drivers (aged 16-24) were stopped excessively – 12 times more than what one would expect based on their population. For young Black males, this figure was 8.3. These results are consistent with those of other studies that have noted intersections between race and age in disproportionate police stops of racialized youth.[24] This has been attributed to race-based stereotypes that assume that racialized youth, and particularly Black youth, are engaged in anti-social and criminal behaviour.[25]

Given that Middle Eastern people, particularly young men, were disproportionately stopped at such high incidences, the OHRC is concerned that Islamophobic and anti-Arab stereotypes may also be at play. These stereotypes may erroneously link people who are perceived to be Muslim, Arab or West Asian, especially young men from these communities, to anti-social and terrorist activity. These stereotypes may then make these residents more vulnerable to greater scrutiny by police. 

Indigenous peoples were not found to be disproportionately represented in traffic stops overall, compared to their driving population. On the whole, relatively few drivers had their race recorded as “Indigenous.” One possible explanation for this is that officers did not accurately identify Indigenous peoples’ ancestry or race. Despite this finding, it is well-recognized that negative stereotypes affecting Indigenous peoples are prevalent in society as well as in the criminal justice system.[26] The OHRC is concerned about how these stereotypes may affect policing of Indigenous peoples (for example, during stops of pedestrians).

3.2. Reasons for traffic stops

When examining the reason for the traffic stops, the vast majority of stops (97.19%) were made for “provincial and municipal offenses.” There were no major differences between racial groups stopped for these reasons.

However, compared with White drivers, five of the six racialized groups (Black, East Asian/South East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern and other racialized minorities) experienced disproportionately high incidences of stops for perceived “criminal offences.” Similarly, police stopped Indigenous peoples, Black people, Middle Eastern people and other racialized minorities disproportionately for “suspicious activities” compared to White people. The researchers suggest that:

[C]ompared with the White group, racialized minority groups have a great propensity to be suspected by police officers of doing something problematic or criminal. While these reasons constituted very small percentages of reasons used, they have created more opportunities for racialized minority groups to be traffic stopped.[27]

3.3. Outcomes of traffic stops

When looking at the outcome of the stop, Black, Indigenous, Middle Eastern and other racialized minorities experienced disproportionately high incidences of being dealt with through no action, compared to the White group. In these cases, police officers did not give warnings or lay charges after the traffic stops – instead, they took no further action. The researchers conclude that “there was a greater propensity that these four racialized minority groups were traffic-stopped for nothing serious enough to be warned or charged, when compared with the White group.”[28]

This result raises the question of why these individuals were stopped in the first place. The researchers note that such actions may give rise to the perception that traffic stops are being used as a way to harass Indigenous and racialized drivers, as police may not see a reason to give a warning or lay charges. It also raises the question of whether, due to stereotyping about criminality, the driver’s race is being used as a pretext to investigate suspected criminal or suspicious behavior.

[21] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1, at 28.

[22] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1, at 54.

[23] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1,at 4.

[24] See for example, Meng, Y., Giwa, S. & Anucha, U. “Is there Racial Discrimination in Police Stop-and-Searches of Black Youth? A Toronto Case Study” (2015) 7(1) Canadian Journal of Family and Youth 115. 

[25] Ibid., at 117.

[26] R. v. Williams, [1998] 1 S.C.R. 1128 at para. 58; R. v. Ipeelee, [2012] 1 S.C.R. 433 at para.60-61.

[27] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1 at 29.

[28] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1 at 25.