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What is racial profiling? (fact sheet)

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For the purposes of its inquiry, the Commission’s definition for "racial profiling" is 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, or a combination of these, rather than on a reasonable suspicion, to single out an individual for greater scrutiny or different treatment.

Racial profiling is different from criminal profiling. Racial profiling is based on stereotypical assumptions because of one’s race, colour, ethnicity, etc.  Criminal profiling, on the other hand, relies on actual behaviour or on information about suspected activity by someone who meets the description of a specific individual.

Stereotyping becomes a particular concern when people act on their stereotypical views in a way that affects others. This is what leads to profiling. Although anyone can experience profiling, racialized persons are primarily affected.

Typically but not always, profiling is carried out by persons in positions of authority, and can occur in many contexts involving safety, security and public protection issues. Some examples of profiling presented during the inquiry include:

  • law enforcement official assumes someone is more likely to have committed a crime because he is African Canadian;
  • school personnel treat a Latino child’s behaviour as an infraction under its zero tolerance policy while the same action by another child might be seen as normal "kids’ play";
  • a private security guard follows a shopper because she believes the shopper is more likely to steal from the store;
  • an employer wants a stricter security clearance for a Muslim employee after September 11th;
  • a bar refuses to serve Aboriginal patrons because of an assumption that they will get drunk and rowdy;
  • a criminal justice system official refuses bail to a Latin American person because of a belief that people from her country are violent; and
  • a landlord asks a Chinese student to move out because she believes that the tenant will expose her to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) even though the tenant has not been to any hospitals, facilities or countries associated with a high risk of SARS.

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