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Speaking out on racial discrimination

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There is an erroneous, romanticized assumption that Canada is a “post-racial” or “race-less” society, with little or no history of racism.
Hodan A. Mohamed and Ruba Ali Al-Hassani, Racial Profiling Policy Dialogue

Community speaks with a single voice: “End carding.”

Racial profiling is an issue at the heart of the OHRC’s mandate to promote respect for human rights. For more than 10 years, the OHRC has taken very public positions on racial profiling, and has helped bring the connection to the Code to the public’s attention.

Many racialized people in Ontario, especially African Canadians and Indigenous peoples, experienced racial profiling through “carding”. We joined a broad network of academics, community groups and concerned individuals to comment on the provincial government’s draft regulation on street checks and call for end to carding, as data showed that the practice was having a disproportionate effect on Black and Brown people, especially young men, and Indigenous peoples.

We will continue to develop community partnerships and call on police services and government to eliminate racial profiling.

Political will needed to end carding

In an opinion editorial in the Toronto Star, Interim Chief Commissioner Ruth Goba wrote:

The impact of the Toronto Police procedure has been to stop people disproportionately in part because of their skin colour. This practice is corrosive and demeaning – in our opinion, it amounts to racial profiling and is illegal.

Statistics show that Black and Brown men are asked to identify themselves to police far more often than any other group in Toronto.

Of course, no one is suggesting police should not engage with the community, or collect the information it needs to make sure the community is safe. However, the way police gather this information can have a very detrimental effect on the community’s trust – as we have seen with carding.


[T]he “collateral damage” and “social cost” of carding are simply not acceptable.


It’s time to say enough, and end an insidious practice that contravenes the Code and has no place in modern Canadian society.

A racially motivated round-up

In an opinion editorial in the Hamilton Spectator, Interim Chief Commissioner Ruth Goba wrote:

We agree that discretion is important – vitally so. But we have always been clear: officer discretion must be informed and guided to prevent racial profiling – and discretionary decisions that are informed by racial bias should lead to officer discipline.

She went on to call the practice of stopping all young Black males in a neighbourhood following a shooting “a textbook description of racial profiling. It is not discretion in action – it is a racially-motivated round-up.”

New provincial regulation a good first step, but not enough to end racial profiling

The OHRC welcomed the Ontario government’s effort to address arbitrary and discriminatory stops by police. We made submissions during the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ consultation and on the draft street checks regulation. The Government released the final regulation in March 2016.

The OHRC and its many community partners are still concerned that the regulation will not be sufficient to end arbitrary and discriminatory stops, some of which amount to racial profiling. The regulation will still permit random and arbitrary police stops of racialized individuals, including the collection and storage of personal information.

While this regulation is a good step forward, it won’t solve all of the issues and it will not on its own rebuild the trust that police need to provide effective service to communities across Ontario. Racial profiling is more than carding or street checks – it can and does occur in traffic stops, searches, DNA sampling, arrests, and incidents of officer use of force. The OHRC will be looking for more changes as the Government reviews the Police Act this coming year.

New policy will tackle racial profiling in all its forms

The OHRC is currently drafting a new policy on racial profiling. This policy will help organizations, legal decision-makers and affected community members to better identify, address and prevent racial profiling as racial discrimination under Ontario’s Human Rights Code. This is a lengthy process that includes, among other things, consultation with people who experience racial profiling, community groups, academic and legal experts, organizations and the general public.

Reaching out – the survey

One of the starting points for developing the policy was to reach out and ask the public what they thought about racial profiling, and to share their experiences, ideas and concerns. The OHRC conducted an online survey that was open to the general public, and was promoted on the OHRC website, on social media, and through existing OHRC networks.

Over 1,500 people responded, and almost 500 people reported that they had personally experienced racial profiling. A detailed analysis will be released later in 2016.

Racial Profiling Policy Dialogue:

Participants say the time to end racial profiling is now

We also hosted a three-day policy dialogue and public lecture on racial profiling in cooperation with the York University’s Centre for Human Rights, School of Public Policy and Administration, and Institute for Social Research.

Leaders from Indigenous and racialized communities spoke passionately about the shared goal of ending racial profiling in policing, child welfare, retail, education and other sectors. Racial profiling is well documented and many participants were clearly concerned that it continues despite efforts to challenge it and end it. What’s needed now is data to reveal the systemic nature of racial profiling and mechanisms to hold people and organizations accountable.

Voices: Racial Profiling Policy Dialogue

[Deeply] imbedded and socially accepted prejudices and stereotypes about Black people have enabled almost every common human behaviour of a person of African descent to, at one time or another, be interpreted as “suspicious” and possibly connected to some form of criminal activity.  
- Anthony Morgan

On the way to school; on the way home from the gym; riding their bikes through a community housing complex; waiting for the bus; sharing a smoke behind a building – youth describe negative interactions with the police. From their neighbourhoods, youth go to school, where interactions with teachers and school administrators increasingly mirror the relations of surveillance and discipline they experience on the streets. 
– Naomi Nichols

[T]he law behaves as though Arabs and Muslims are not subject to stereotyping. Complainants and respondents in human rights cases involving Arabs and Muslims are treated as abstracted individuals, stripped away from the racialized contexts in which they live and immune to the particular harm, including spirit injury, that stereotypes impose. 
– Reem Bahdi

[R]acial differences in stop and search activities contribute to negative perceptions of the police and justice system among minority civilians. These negative perceptions, in turn, may result in a lack of cooperation with the police and courts and ultimately contribute to minority involvement in crime and violence. 
– Scot Wortley

[W]hile criminal profiling and racial profiling are theoretically distinct, these concepts often fuse in practice and in dialogue such that stereotypes that link certain segments of the population with heightened criminal propensity can shape police decision making in very problematic ways. 
– Curt Taylor Griffiths and Sara K. Thompson

Rather than positively engaging with the community and building a sense of trust in the institution, the practice [street checks] would appear to have done the opposite. There is some hypocrisy in calling it a community engagement tool when police checks are at the very heart of bad police-community relations. 
- Tim Rees

Racial profiling by child welfare is evidenced in the common practice of workers interviewing Black children at public schools without parental permission. This exclusionary practice denigrates Black parents’ authority by erasing their presence and voice.


Racial profiling is evidenced when child welfare workers solicit police accompaniment on home visits which socially constructs Black families as criminals and dangerous.
– Gordon Pon, Doret Phillips, Jennifer Clarke and Idil Abdillahi

The problem with the conversation – sometimes debate, sometimes unproductive argument – on street checks is the mistrust, lack of respect and lack of understanding on both sides. 
– Gary V. Melanson

Incredibly, one participant who was a university student at the time of the interview, felt that the priorities of campus security did not include racialized women during heightened concerns over sexual assaults on campus when she was told “you don’t need to be protected, like, they’re not going to go after you.” 
– Tammy C. Landau

Police officer misconduct cases should apply human rights law: “Neptune 4”

The OHRC has sought to intervene in the “Neptune 4” case being heard by the Toronto Police Service Disciplinary Tribunal. Four Black teens were arrested at gunpoint by police officers in 2011 while on their way to a tutoring session. Security video shows one of the teens being punched and pulled to the ground. The teens were not convicted of any offence. Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director found that charges of officer misconduct were warranted. The OHRC argued that the case raised issues of racial profiling.

Calling for data collection on stops, use of force: Roberts v. Toronto Police Services Board

The OHRC has intervened in a case at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario that raises issues of racial profiling and discriminatory use of force. Rohan Roberts, who identifies as Black, alleged that in 2014 two Toronto Police Service officers stopped and asked him for identification while walking to a friend’s Christmas party. He says he was then arrested, handcuffed and dragged to a nearby grassy area and beaten. Charges against him were later dropped.

As a remedy, the OHRC will ask the police to collect race-based data on all stops of civilians and incidents of use of force to identify, monitor and address patterns of officer behaviour that are consistent with racial profiling. Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane commented, “The OHRC has been working with the Toronto Police Service and the Board for over a decade on ways to prevent racial profiling and to deal with it when it happens. This case exemplifies how little progress has been made. We are now turning to legal action so that officers and administrators are held accountable.”

Black History Month: let’s celebrate the past, eradicate anti-Black racism today

Referencing ongoing racial profiling, this OHRC statement acknowledged Black community leaders working to end the continuing racial discrimination against Black Ontarians, and urged people to “become part of the growing chorus of voices calling for an end to systemic racism in our province.”

OHRC reports to the UN on systemic racism in Ontario

The OHRC made a submission on Canada’s upcoming review under the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and reported that Indigenous peoples and racialized communities in Ontario continue to experience systemic racial profiling and other discrimination that is devastating to their lives. Examples included arbitrary police stops, police use of force, police record checks, treatment of migrant and foreign trained workers, poverty and inadequate housing, over-representation in the child welfare system, and violence against women and girls. Canada is expected to appear before the UN Committee overseeing the Convention, which applies equally to all levels of government, in the coming year.

E(RACE)r Summit on Race and Racism on Canadian University Campuses – Waterloo

Renu Mandhane spoke as a panelist on “Celebrating student civic engagement against racism in Canadian universities,” at a summit hosted by Wilfrid Laurier University’s Diversity and Equity Office and the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives: “It is not enough to simply react to an incident of racism after it happens… – the goal must be to put systems in place, remove barriers and create a learning environment where these issues are addressed proactively.” (Full speech available at

South Asian Bar Association 10th Anniversary Gala and Awards Night

In a keynote address, Renu Mandhane  stated: “Regardless of where you work, if you are in this room, you are like me, very privileged in terms of the education and the opportunities we have enjoyed. But with this privilege comes responsibility. We need to recognize that many other people in Ontario’s South Asian community face real, systemic barriers to success.” (Full speech available at

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