Police provide a vital function that often brings them into conflict with members of the public. As a result, police can face complaints (now called applications) based on the Code. The pattern of these complaints provides police services with some idea of the major human rights concerns they currently face.
Table 2: Human rights complaints against police in Ontario
- In 2007, the OHRC had 151 active applications against 21 different police services boards across Ontario, and another 19 applications were before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal
- Applications against police services boards accounted for 4% of all active human rights applications, making them the largest single sector for human rights complaints in Ontario
- 110 (73%) of police human rights applications related to police service
- 41 police human rights applications (27%) involved employment
- about 62% of complaints against police services were on the grounds of race, colour, ethnic origin, place of origin or ancestry
- about 30% of complaints cited disability
- 5% involved sexual orientation.
Human rights complaints against police organizations are consistently the largest single sector of human rights complaints in Ontario.
The above statistics also show that:
- these complaints were filed mostly about services provided to the public
- a significant number of complaints related to police as an employer
- the largest number of complaints were race-related, followed by disability
- discrimination based on sexual orientation is a concern.
Table 3 lists common allegations that have been made in human rights complaints against police services. Many of these resulted in settlements or findings of discrimination by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The list shows human rights concerns can occur in virtually any part of police activity. While some of these allegations are about intentional acts of discrimination by individual police officers, most are not. The majority of these clearly relate to gaps in policies, procedures and practices, or lack of training. While current training for recruits at the Ontario Police College involves basic training in the Charter and the Code, there is no formal requirement for further human rights training throughout a police officer’s career.
Table 3: Some common human rights allegations against police in Ontario
- Use of racial slurs or comments during investigation or detention – e.g. generalized negative comment made about a social group – “you people” (with or without explicit racial epithet) – at a routine police traffic stop
- Degrading or rude treatment during arrest or detention – e.g. female suspect being strip searched on the street
- Racial profiling – different attention or treatment due to, or even partially due to, race rather than legitimate profiles – e.g. police questioning an Aboriginal person walking with his bicycle without reasonable suspicion, and asking for ID and ownership of the bicycle
- Incidents of false arrest – e.g. suspect was a Black man in early 20s wearing dark clothing, while the person stopped and arrested was a Black 43-year-old man who was wearing light clothing
- Asking for information irrelevant to the investigation at hand – e.g. asking about place of birth and religion where these are not factors in the alleged offence
- Police presence that is disproportionate to the incident – e.g. backup being called where a racialized man with a scooter was driving without a license
- Employment complaints where officers allege their disability was not accommodated – e.g. officer’s accommodation request to not attend to an incident involving domestic violence due to a mental health ailment not taken seriously
- Design of systems that result in systemic discrimination for individuals based on Code grounds – e.g. release of mental health information to an organization as part of a police record check request
These complaints, and the many outcomes that have emerged from them, offer a wealth of experience and knowledge to build on during human rights organizational change in policing – and have already led to changes in police practices across Ontario.