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Towards a new OHRC policy on racial profiling

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June 24, 2015

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Please consider taking part in this work by completing our survey (by September 30, 2015)  and being part of our policy dialogue

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is seeking new ways to stamp out an old and all too persistent problem – racial profiling.

We continue to address this issue using all of our statutory powers, including creating a new policy that will provide guidance on combatting racial profiling in a range of institutional and community settings. The policy will also seek to support and enable Ontario organizations, legal decision-makers and affected community members to better identify, assess, address and prevent racial profiling as a prohibited form of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The OHRC currently defines racial profiling as:

any action undertaken for reasons of safety, security or public protection that relies on stereotypes about race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, or place of origin rather than on reasonable suspicion, to single out an individual for greater scrutiny or different treatment” (OHRC, Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling, 2003, p. 6).

Now, we look to you for help. By taking part in our online survey on racial profiling and in further research and consultation (see Request for Proposals for Policy Dialogue on Racial Profiling) you can identify the evolving nature and scope of racial profiling in diverse communities and sectors across the province. Your involvement can  help us develop relevant policy positions that may help individuals and organizations understand and uphold their rights and responsibilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The OHRC’s involvement in significant racial profiling cases has helped to advance the law on racial profiling as a prohibited form of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code for example: Shaw v. Phipps, 2012 ONCA 155 (CanLII); Peel Law Association v. Pieters, 2013 ONCA 396 (CanLII); Maynard v. Toronto Police Services Board, 2012 HRTO 1220 (CanLII); Nassiah v. Peel Police Services Board, 2007 HRTO 14 (CanLII).

In 2003, we launched an inquiry and gathered more than 400 personal accounts of racial profiling from people across Ontario. Our inquiry report, Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling, highlighted the human cost of racial profiling on individuals who have experienced it, their families and their communities and its negative impact on society as a whole. The primary purpose of the inquiry was two-fold: to give a voice to people who have experienced profiling and raise awareness of the negative consequences of profiling among people who have not been affected by it. 

In 2005, the OHRC released its Policy and guidelines on racism and racial discrimination. The policy defines racial profiling, identifies relevant principles, and offers service providers with some strategies to avoid racial profiling. This policy had to address racial discrimination in its many forms, so the policy guidance on racial profiling was necessarily short in length and high level. The policy has nevertheless been cited in HRTO cases and remains a leading policy statement on racial discrimination in Canada and internationally.

In 2007, the OHRC began a three-year Human Rights Project Charter partnership with the Toronto Police Service (TPS) and Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) to identify, monitor and eliminate discrimination in TPS employment and service delivery. The OHRC developed and delivered training on various human rights topics, including how to avoid racial profiling in policing. This OHRC training continues to be delivered to police officers across the province today in partnership with the Ontario Police College. However, we recognize the need to address and remedy structural, policy and procedural issues in policing so that training efforts on racial profiling have a real impact.

In 2011, the OHRC published Human rights and policing: creating and sustaining organizational change, a guide for police services. In our efforts to address and prevent racial profiling and other prohibited forms of discrimination, we have also since taken on other human rights organizational change project partnerships with the Windsor Police Service and Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

In 2012, we reached a settlement with the Ottawa Police Services Board that required Ottawa Police Service officers to collect race-based data on traffic stops for at least two years. The Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project began on June 27, 2013. We remain closely involved in efforts to ensure meaningful analysis and use of the data to address and prevent racial profiling in policing.

The OHRC continues to address racial profiling human rights concerns in several ways, including delivering public education to affected communities on the right to be free from racial profiling under the Code and the human rights statutory regime for addressing racial profiling.

In April 2014, the OHRC made a submission to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director’s Systemic Review of Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Practices for DNA Sampling. Our submission provided information about racial profiling and how to identify it; explained (1) why the OPP’s DNA collection from migrant workers appeared to be consistent with racial profiling, and (2) how police DNA collection may disproportionately affect racialized and marginalized groups; and made recommendations on how the OPP can address racial bias in its policing.

We have also been actively advocating for changes to the Toronto Police Service’s Community Engagement practices – commonly called carding – through public statements and deputations to the Toronto Police Service Board. The OHRC is currently exploring other options under its mandate to change the practice of carding.


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