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Paying the price: The human cost of racial profiling

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Approved by the Commission: October 21, 2003


While racial profiling has long been a concern for members of racialized communities,[*][1] recently there has been heightened public debate on the issue. The focus has primarily been on: whether racial profiling exists in Ontario, who engages in it, who is targeted, whether it is a legitimate practice and what can be done to prevent it. However, what has been noticeably absent from the public discussion is an analysis of the effect that racial profiling, or even a perception that it is occurring, has on those directly impacted and on Ontario society as a whole. Through its racial profiling inquiry, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the Commission) hopes to fill this void by illustrating the human cost of profiling.

On December 9, 2002, the eve of International Human Rights Day, the Commission announced that it would conduct an inquiry into the effects of racial profiling on individuals, families, communities and society as a whole. The Commission emphasized that racial profiling is a human rights issue by stating that it is wrong and contrary to the principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

On February 17, 2003, the Commission’s inquiry was officially launched with Terms of Reference that defined what constitutes racial profiling from the Commission’s perspective, explained the purpose of the initiative and set out the Commission’s process for hearing people’s experiences.

Advertisements concerning the inquiry were placed in 43 Ontario daily newspapers, 17 weekly French newspapers and 30 ethnic and Aboriginal newspapers. As well, information was sent to approximately 1000 individuals and organizations. Submissions were received by telephone (from February 18th to 28th), by mail and through an online questionnaire on the Commission’s Web site. The response received far exceeded the Commission’s expectations. Over 800 people contacted the Commission, with approximately half of those contacts being about racial profiling. Most of the remaining submissions concerned racial discrimination and did not fit within the Commission’s definition of racial profiling, but will be of use to the Commission as part of its larger project on race.

This Report would not have been possible without the contribution of so many Ontarians. The Commission would like to thank everyone who took the time to participate in our process. We recognize that it can be difficult to share these experiences and, in particular, their impact on individuals and families. Participants’ willingness to come forward, in some cases many years after the incident of profiling or after having moved away from Ontario, demonstrates the impact that this issue is having in our community.

[*] Racialization is the process by which societies construct races as real, different and unequal in ways that matter to economic, political and social life.This term is widely preferred over descriptions such as “racial minority”, “visible minority” or “person of colour” as it expresses race as a social construct rather than as a description of persons based on perceived characteristics.
[1]Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, December 1995) (Co-chairs: D. Cole & M. Gittens) at 40-1.


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