OHRC Response to the Race Data and Traffic Stops in Ottawa Report

Ontario Human Rights Commission
 Response to the 
Race Data and Traffic Stops in Ottawa Report

November 28, 2016

Executive summary

On October 24, 2016, researchers from York University released their analysis of race-based data collected by the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) on traffic stops. The OPS’s Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project (TSRDCP) arose as a result of a human rights complaint, in which a young Black man alleged that he experienced racial profiling by OPS officers.

The Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) reached a settlement in 2012. As part of the settlement, the OPS agreed that its officers would collect race-based data on traffic stops for two years beginning in 2013. The OPS fully complied with the settlement and even went beyond what was required in its data collection efforts, resulting in a comprehensive police data collection initiative. 

The research findings that have arisen from the data collection are alarming and are consistent with racial profiling. They cannot and should not be easily explained away. The researchers found that Black and Middle Eastern people experienced disproportionately high incidences of traffic stops. Black drivers were stopped 2.3 times more than you would expect based on their driving population and Middle Eastern drivers were stopped 3.3 times more. Young male Black drivers (age 16-24) were stopped 8.3 times more than would be expected based on their driving population, while young male Middle Eastern drivers were stopped 12 times more.

Racial profiling is a particularly damaging form of racial discrimination. The OHRC 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.

Racial profiling undermines the relationship between police and racialized and Indigenous individuals, families and communities. It is important to note that racial profiling is not just based on officer bias, whether implicit or explicit. It is often found in systemic practices of policing such as officer deployment, intelligence gathering activities, and stopping people who are perceived to be “out of place” in the neighbourhood. These often appear as routine or “normal” policing activities.

The OPS and others have asserted that the researchers’ findings do not “prove” racial profiling. However, the purpose of the study was to assess whether racialized or Indigenous people are over-represented in traffic stops, and to provide clear evidence the OPS could act on. The research was not designed to prove causation, nor could quantitative research on its own generally prove this. Given that other factors do not provide a conclusive non-discriminatory explanation for racialized people experiencing disproportionately high incidences of traffic stops, it is clear that the data is consistent with racial profiling.

The results from the OPS data collection project are situated within a context of historical police/community relations with racialized and Indigenous peoples in Ottawa and Canada generally. The findings are also similar to the results of other research conducted on police bias. These concerns and experiences, both in Ottawa and more broadly, reinforce that the over-representation of racialized people in traffic stops in the Ottawa data is consistent with racial profiling.

The results highlight the need for the OPS, other police services across Ontario and the government to put in place meaningful and effective measures to prevent and eliminate all forms of racial profiling. Elements of a broader strategy to address systemic racial profiling include providing leadership, reimagining models of community policing, providing training, and committing to monitoring and accountability measures.


Code Grounds: 
Resource Type: 
Discrimination Type: 

1. Introduction

On October 24, 2016, researchers from York University released their analysis of race-based data collected by the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) on traffic stops.[1] The OPS’s Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project (TSRDCP) came as a result of a human rights complaint made against the Ottawa Police Services Board by an Ottawa resident. He claimed he was arbitrarily stopped and detained while driving a car with several other passengers in 2005. The complainant, Chad Aiken, believed that he experienced discrimination because he was an 18-year-old African Canadian male, driving a Mercedes Benz, with four other racialized youth as passengers.[2] Mr. Aiken viewed both the stop and the subsequent treatment of him by the police as racial profiling and racial discrimination.

The Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) eventually reached a settlement in 2012. As part of the settlement, the OPS agreed that its officers would collect race-based data on traffic stops for two years beginning in 2013. The OPS fully complied with the settlement and even went beyond what was required in its data collection efforts, resulting in a comprehensive police data collection initiative. This was the first of its kind in a large urban setting in Canada.

The results from this data collection project show that “Middle Easterner” and “Black” groups have proportionately higher incidents of traffic stops by police in Ottawa. It is the OHRC’s opinion that the findings in the researcher’s report are consistent with racial profiling. These results cannot be easily explained by other factors.

The OHRC has done extensive work in the area of racial discrimination and racial profiling, and has made repeated recommendations to police services, government and other institutions to implement race-based data collection. Appropriate data collection is necessary for effectively monitoring discrimination, identifying and removing systemic barriers, ameliorating historical disadvantage and promoting substantive equality. Data collection is only a first step in addressing systemic discrimination. Where the data collected points to discriminatory practices, it should be accompanied by meaningful strategies for change.

This response provides our official interpretation of the researchers’ report results. This response will:

  • Describe the key findings in the report and explain why these are indicative of racial profiling
  • Discuss other explanations for the findings and identify how these do not adequately account for the results
  • Give context to the findings by outlining additional concerns about police racial profiling, both in Ottawa and more broadly in Canada
  • Provide recommendations for solutions to address systemic racial profiling in policing.

The OHRC’s recommendations should be read in conjunction with its recommendations in the submission to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services on its Strategy for a Safer Ontario,[3] and its submission to the Independent Review of Police Oversight Bodies, which will be released to the public shortly.

Overall, the OPS report results highlight the need for the Ottawa Police Service, other police services across Ontario and the government to put in place meaningful and effective measures, consistent with the report recommendations, to prevent and eliminate all forms of racial profiling.

[1] Lorne Foster, Les Jacobs & Bobby Siu, Race Data and Traffic Stops in Ottawa, 2013-2015: A Report on Ottawa and the Police Districts (2016) online: Ottawa Police Service www.ottawapolice.ca/en/news-and-community/Traffic-Stop-Race-Data-Collection-ProjectTSRDCP.asp (retrieved November 7, 2016).

[2] See Aiken v. Ottawa Police Services Board, 2013 HRTO 901 (CanLII).

2. Understanding racial profiling in policing

The OHRC 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.

Racial profiling is a particularly damaging form of racial discrimination. Profiling is based on pre-conceived ideas about a Code-related characteristic, such as a person’s race, ethnic origin, creed, etc. It is different from criminal profiling. Criminal profiling relies on actual behavior or on information about suspected criminal activity by someone who meets the description of a specific person or persons.

In racial profiling cases, courts and human rights tribunals have widely accepted that race only needs to be a factor in the adverse treatment to constitute profiling.[4] There is no need to establish an intention or motivation to discriminate.[5] The focus of the enquiry is the effect of the respondent’s actions on the complainant.

It is important to recognize the role that stereotypes play in racial profiling. Racial profiling may be the product of stereotypes about African Canadians,[6] Indigenous peoples[7] and Arabs and Muslims[8] in addition to stereotypes about criminality. A person may face racial profiling based on multiple aspects of his or her identity that intersect in a socially significant way.[9] Police officers and policing institutions are not immune to dominant and entrenched societal perceptions.[10]

There are different types of racial profiling, which may overlap with each other. It may result from police officers’ internal implicit bias, which stems from unconscious stereotypes, or explicit bias, which arises from conscious stereotypes. Courts and tribunals have recognized that racial stereotyping will usually be the result of subtle unconscious beliefs, biases and prejudices.[11]

Less well understood is that racial profiling often arises from systemic or institutionalized discrimination. The case law has recognized that racial profiling is a systemic problem in policing.[12] Even in individual situations of racial profiling by police, there may be an institutional component that contributes to it.

Systemic racial profiling results from patterns of behavior, policies or practices that are part of the social or administrative structures of an organization, and which perpetuate a position of relative disadvantage for racialized and Indigenous persons. These policies or the behavior may appear neutral, but nevertheless may result in situations where racialized or Indigenous peoples tend to be chosen for greater scrutiny. Policies or procedures may themselves be based on unconscious racial stereotypes.

Systemic racial profiling can overlap with and be in part reproduced through individual acts of racial profiling. For example, a policy that contributes to racial profiling can be compounded by the discriminatory attitudes of individual police officers administering it. However, the focus of the systemic racial profiling analysis is on the outcome and effects of institutional policies, practices and procedures.

An important component of systemic racial profiling is the organization’s culture. This can be described as shared patterns of informal social behavior, such as communication, decision-making and interpersonal relationships, which are the evidence of deeply held and largely unconscious values, assumptions and behavioural norms. If stereotypical thinking that links race to criminality is reinforced and encouraged through training and socialization of staff and fixed through organizational norms and practices, inherent suspicion of racialized people may become embedded in a police organization’s belief system and culture.[13]

Overall, systemic racial profiling means that racial profiling has become an established and accepted part of the way an organization operates. It becomes part of the “normal” way of doing things.

Specific policing activities related to monitoring traffic may be seen as forms of systemic racial profiling. One is stopping and questioning people who are perceived to be “out of place”[14]and not residents of the neighbourhood they are in.[15] Higher income neighbourhoods tend to be populated by White residents. This, coupled with stereotypes linking racialized people with criminality, may lead to racialized people in the neighbourhood being more likely to be stopped because they are perceived to be suspicious.[16]

Another is intelligence gathering in the form of pretext vehicle stops. Pretext vehicle stops may be used to investigate suspected drug couriers and other criminal activity,[17] and in the U.S. have been accompanied by the use of race-based drug courier profiles.[18] According to the OPS’s policy on racial profiling,

A pretext stop occurs where the officer’s primary motivation is to conduct a criminal rather than a traffic investigation. A pretext stop can occur even where
a traffic violation has been committed. Pretext stops have been found to violate section 9 of the Charter. Pretext vehicle stops are one of the primary means by which racial profiling is manifested.[19]

Although the OPS’s policy prohibits the use of pretext stops, it is not clear how this directive has been implemented, and whether any monitoring or accountability measures have been put in place to enforce it.

Police deployment practices can also lead to systemic racial profiling, over-policing and aggressive policing of racialized communities.[20] Because of the widespread nature of traffic offences, people in all neighbourhoods should be equally likely to be stopped by police. However, a greater number of patrol cars may be assigned to racialized and socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods because of a perception that there is high crime. If these officers are instructed or allowed to conduct vehicle stops while in the neighbourhood, ostensibly to fight crime, racialized people are more likely to be singled out. This standard policing activity will likely have an adverse impact on people from racialized communities.

[4] Phipps v. Toronto Police Services Board, 2009 HRTO 877 (CanLII) at para. 16 [Phipps, 2009]; Shaw v. Phipps, 2010 ONSC 3884 (CanLII) at paras. 11-15 and 76 [Phipps, 2010]; aff’d in Shaw. v. Phipps, 2012 ONCA 155 [Phipps, 2012]; Peel Law Association v. Pieters, 2013 ONCA 396  at paras. 53-62 and 111-125 [Pieters]; Adams v. Knoll North America, 2009 HRTO 1381 (CanLII) at para. 44;  aff’d Knoll North America Corp. v. Adams, 2010 ONSC 3005 (CanLII); Maynard v. Toronto Police Services Board, 2012 HRTO 1220 (CanLII) at para. 150 [Maynard]; Peart v. Peel Regional Police Services Board, [2006] O.J. No. 4457 (C.A.) at para. 91 [Peart]; Québec (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse) v. Bombardier Inc. (Bombardier Aerospace Training Center), 2015 SCC 39 at paras. 47-51 [Bombardier].

[5] Bombardiersupra note 4 at paras. 40, 41 and 49; Phipps, 2010 supra note 4 at para. 76; aff’d in Shaw v. Phipps, 2012 ONCA 155; Pieterssupra note 4 at para. 60; Maynard, supra note 4 at para. 150.

[6] Sinclair v. London (City), 2008 HRTO 48 (CanLII) at paras. 16 and 17 [Sinclair]; Nassiah v. Peel (Regional Municipality) Police Services Board, 2007 HRTO 14 (CanLII) at paras. 129 and 166 [Nassiah]; Johnson v. Halifax (Regional Municipality) Police Service, [2003] N.S.H.R.B.I.D. No. 2 at paras. 11-43 [Johnson]; R. v. Khan, [2004] O.J. No. 3819 at para. 68 (S.C.J.) [Khan]; R. v. Brown, [2003] O.J. No. 1251 at paras. 42-29 (C.A.) [Brown]; Phipps, 2009, supra note 4 at para. 21; aff’d Shaw v. Phipps, 2012 ONCA 155 (CanLII).

[7] McKay v. Toronto Police Services Board, 2011 HRTO 499 (CanLII) at paras. 103, 128 and 129 [McKay]; Radek v. Henderson Development (Canada) Ltd., 2005 BCHRT 302 (CanLII) at para. 132 [Radek].

[8] R. v. Neyazi, 2014 ONSC 6838 (CanLII) at para. 204 [Neyazi].

[9] Radeksupra note 7 at paras. 463-465; Maynard, supra note 4 at para. 4.

[10] See for example, Giwa, et al., “Community Policing – A Shared Responsibility: A Voice-Centred Relational Method Analysis of a Police/Youth-of-Colour Dialogue” (2014) 12(3) Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice  218.

[11] Pieterssupra note 4 at paras. 111-115; R. v. Parks, [1993] O.J. No. 2157 at para. 54. (C.A.) [Parks]; Peart supra note 4 at para. 93; R. v. R.D.S., [1997] 3 S.C.R. 484 at para. 46 [R.D.S.]; R. v. Spence, 2005 SCC 71 at paras. 31-33 [Spence]; Briggs v. Durham Regional Police Services, 2015 HRTO 1712 (CanLII) at para. 283 [Briggs].

[12] Nassiahsupra note 6 at para. 113; Peart, supra note 4 at para. 94.

[13] Carol Tator & Frances Henry, Racial Profiling in Canada: Challenging the Myth of “a Few Bad Apples” (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006) at 96.

[14] Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, Marcinda Mason & Matthew Zingraff, “Looking for the Driving While Black Phenomena: Conceptualizing Racial Bias Processes and their Associated Distributions” (2004) 7(1) Police Quarterly 3.

[15] See, for example, Interview of Chief Jennifer Evans by Matt Galloway (6 October 2016) on Metro Morning, CBC Radio, Toronto online:  CBC News Toronto www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/programs/metromorning/peel-police-chief-jennifer-evans-says-she-won-t-resign-amid-complaints-1.3794146 (retrieved November 7, 2016). The Chief of Peel Police identified that 76% of street checks happened because people were not in the area where they lived, and they could not provide a credible reason to police as to why. She cited this as a reason for police to document them.

[16] Canadian research has shown that Black people are subjected to disproportionately more stops and arrests for drug-related reasons in neighbourhoods that are more socio-economically advantaged and where White people are more likely to live. Yunliang Meng, “Racially Biased Policing and Neighbourhood Characteristics: A Case Study in Toronto, Canada” (2014) 665 Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography online: Cybergeo https://cybergeo.revues.org/26165 (retrieved November 4, 2016).

[17] David M. Tanovich, “Using the Charter to Stop Racial Profiling: The Development of an Equality-Based Conception of Arbitrary Detention” (2002) 40(2) Osgoode Hall Law Journal 145.

[18] Ibid

[19] Ottawa Police Service, Racial Profiling Policy, No. 5.39, Approved 27 June, 2011, online: Ottawa Police Service www.ottawapolice.ca/en/news-and-community/FAQsTSRDCP.asp#policy (retrieved November 15, 2016) at 2-3.

[20] Research based in the U.S. has found that because crime rates tend to be higher in lower socio-economic neighbourhoods in which African Americans are more likely to live, they tend to experience aggressive policing. High levels of police suspicion, stops, interrogation, and searches are more likely directed at people in poor and racialized neighbourhoods. See Tomaskovic-Devey, supra note 14 for a review of the literature at 19; Scot Wortley & Julian Tanner, “Inflammatory Rhetoric or Baseless Accusations? A Response to Gabor’s Critique of Racial Profiling Research in Canada” (2005) 47Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 581.

3. Key findings that are indicative of racial profiling

From the OHRC’s perspective, the York University researchers’ findings are highly consistent with the phenomenon of racial profiling. Over-representation of various racialized groups and sub-groups (broken down by sex and age) exists when looking at traffic stops generally, the reason for the stop, the outcome of the stop and the police district where the stop took place. In stating their conclusions about the disproportionately high incidence of traffic stops of various race sub-groups in the six police districts, the researchers note that “these anomalies are extensive in number and severe in disproportionality.”[21]

These disproportionalities exist despite some officers acknowledging that they failed to correctly enter the race data due to concerns about how it would affect their employment.[22]

3.1. Traffic stops

Alarmingly, Black and Middle Eastern drivers, regardless of their sex and age, experienced disproportionately high incidences of traffic stops. Middle Eastern drivers were stopped 3.3 times more than their proportion in the driving population. Black drivers were stopped 2.3 times more than their proportion in the driving population.

The researchers also conclude that there is a clear relationship between race, sex, age and traffic stops.[23] Aside from Indigenous peoples, young men aged 16-24 of all racial groups, including White people, had disproportionately high incidences of traffic stops. For some racial groups, this disproportionality was more extreme than for others. Middle Eastern male young drivers (aged 16-24) were stopped excessively – 12 times more than what one would expect based on their population. For young Black males, this figure was 8.3. These results are consistent with those of other studies that have noted intersections between race and age in disproportionate police stops of racialized youth.[24] This has been attributed to race-based stereotypes that assume that racialized youth, and particularly Black youth, are engaged in anti-social and criminal behaviour.[25]

Given that Middle Eastern people, particularly young men, were disproportionately stopped at such high incidences, the OHRC is concerned that Islamophobic and anti-Arab stereotypes may also be at play. These stereotypes may erroneously link people who are perceived to be Muslim, Arab or West Asian, especially young men from these communities, to anti-social and terrorist activity. These stereotypes may then make these residents more vulnerable to greater scrutiny by police. 

Indigenous peoples were not found to be disproportionately represented in traffic stops overall, compared to their driving population. On the whole, relatively few drivers had their race recorded as “Indigenous.” One possible explanation for this is that officers did not accurately identify Indigenous peoples’ ancestry or race. Despite this finding, it is well-recognized that negative stereotypes affecting Indigenous peoples are prevalent in society as well as in the criminal justice system.[26] The OHRC is concerned about how these stereotypes may affect policing of Indigenous peoples (for example, during stops of pedestrians).

3.2. Reasons for traffic stops

When examining the reason for the traffic stops, the vast majority of stops (97.19%) were made for “provincial and municipal offenses.” There were no major differences between racial groups stopped for these reasons.

However, compared with White drivers, five of the six racialized groups (Black, East Asian/South East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern and other racialized minorities) experienced disproportionately high incidences of stops for perceived “criminal offences.” Similarly, police stopped Indigenous peoples, Black people, Middle Eastern people and other racialized minorities disproportionately for “suspicious activities” compared to White people. The researchers suggest that:

[C]ompared with the White group, racialized minority groups have a great propensity to be suspected by police officers of doing something problematic or criminal. While these reasons constituted very small percentages of reasons used, they have created more opportunities for racialized minority groups to be traffic stopped.[27]

3.3. Outcomes of traffic stops

When looking at the outcome of the stop, Black, Indigenous, Middle Eastern and other racialized minorities experienced disproportionately high incidences of being dealt with through no action, compared to the White group. In these cases, police officers did not give warnings or lay charges after the traffic stops – instead, they took no further action. The researchers conclude that “there was a greater propensity that these four racialized minority groups were traffic-stopped for nothing serious enough to be warned or charged, when compared with the White group.”[28]

This result raises the question of why these individuals were stopped in the first place. The researchers note that such actions may give rise to the perception that traffic stops are being used as a way to harass Indigenous and racialized drivers, as police may not see a reason to give a warning or lay charges. It also raises the question of whether, due to stereotyping about criminality, the driver’s race is being used as a pretext to investigate suspected criminal or suspicious behavior.

[21] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1, at 28.

[22] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1, at 54.

[23] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1,at 4.

[24] See for example, Meng, Y., Giwa, S. & Anucha, U. “Is there Racial Discrimination in Police Stop-and-Searches of Black Youth? A Toronto Case Study” (2015) 7(1) Canadian Journal of Family and Youth 115. 

[25] Ibid., at 117.

[26] R. v. Williams, [1998] 1 S.C.R. 1128 at para. 58; R. v. Ipeelee, [2012] 1 S.C.R. 433 at para.60-61.

[27] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1 at 29.

[28] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1 at 25.

4. Responses to the researchers’ report results

4.1. “Proof” of racial profiling

In response to the researchers’ findings, the Ottawa Police Service and others have asserted that the data does not “prove” racial profiling. This raises a question about the value of the data and what it can tell us.

The purpose of the study was to assess whether racialized or Indigenous groups are over-represented in traffic stops, to provide clear evidence that the Ottawa Police Service, and others, could act on. The study met this goal. The researchers noted that the purpose of the study was not to prove causation.

In addition, generally speaking, racial profiling is not something that can be definitively proven through a quantitative study alone. Over-representation of racialized and Indigenous persons in police stops provides strong circumstantial evidence of the existence of inequitable practices. Courts and tribunals have accepted that racial profiling can rarely be identified by direct evidence; it will more often be proven by circumstantial evidence and inference.[29]

The high disproportionalities found in this report are strong circumstantial evidence of the existence of some form of racial profiling. The findings are reinforced by the large body of evidence that has flagged racial profiling as a major concern in policing throughout Canada and the U.S. Social scientific research, both quantitative and qualitative, tells of racial profiling of various types in policing.[30] It is routine to hear of complaints of racial profiling about police from members of Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities. The OPS traffic stop data collection initiative is the product of the settlement of one such human rights complaint. In addition, many recent human rights cases before tribunals and the courts in Canada have found racial profiling to be behind police actions with racialized and Indigenous peoples. 

Given these factors, these results still form a basis the Ottawa Police Service and others should act on to implement strategies to eliminate racial profiling.

4.2. Police deployment 

Other factors do not provide a conclusive non-discriminatory explanation for the finding that racialized people experienced disproportionately high incidences of traffic stops. For example, it has been suggested that the greater police presence in “high-crime” areas can account for greater proportions of Black and Middle Eastern people being traffic-stopped. The OPS has indicated that residents in areas with high crime want police to be active and visible, but this cannot be used by police to justify stop practices that have a disparate impact on racialized people.

One explanation given for racial disparities in stop and search studies is that greater police presence and attention is assigned to certain “hot spots” where the majority of crime is alleged to occur.[31] Because these neighbourhoods are often socio-economically disadvantaged and have many racialized residents, this greater police attention can in turn lead to disproportionate stops of racialized people.

However, in the OPS data, the vast majority of traffic stops were made because of perceived traffic violations or municipal offences, and not because the police suspected people of being engaged in criminal or suspicious activities.

In addition, as described earlier, a police deployment strategy that leads to greater traffic stops for racialized people in “high crime” areas may itself be a form of systemic racial profiling. Greater numbers of traffic patrols in racialized neighbourhoods means that racialized people are more likely to be targeted for minor offences, such as traffic offences, compared to White people in other neighbourhoods who may be committing the same offences. This can create an adverse effect based on race.

4.3. Perceiving race before the stop 

According to the study findings, in almost 89% of cases, OPS officers recorded that they did not perceive the race of the driver before the stop. This finding may create the inference that, if the race of the driver was not perceived prior to the stop, racial profiling in traffic stops could not have taken place.[32]

There is some reason to question the accuracy of the 89% figure. Two researchers did an independent study and interviewed 57 OPS officers about their experiences with the project. In their interviews, some front-line officers reported that they sometimes deliberately entered inaccurate race data for fear of how the data might affect their employment.[33] Many officers said that they “did not perceive” the race of the driver because of concerns that they would be implicated by the data.[34] Research suggests that police may record race-based data inaccurately or leave out data for various reasons.[35] Depending on the level of inaccuracy, this may lead to an underestimation of how often racialized drivers are stopped or biased findings.[36]

Further, even if in 89% of cases, officers did not observe the race of the driver prior to the stop, race may have been perceived, even implicitly, due to other factors. The characteristics of certain vehicles may give rise to a perception of who is being stopped, even if the race of the driver cannot be seen. Older vehicles or vehicles that have tinted windows, extra-large rims, or large sound systems may be used as proxies for the race of the driver.[37] Running a license plate can also provide information about a person, such as their name, that may give rise to a perception of the person’s race. For these reasons, it is unclear whether the 89% figure is a true indicator of whether the driver’s race was not perceived before the stop.  

More study is warranted of the 11% of stops where officers recorded that they could perceive the race of the driver. It is unclear if the same disproportionality between racial groups exists in this 11% as it does in the overall results. 

Even if the vast majority of officers did not perceive the race of the driver before the stop, this finding cannot adequately explain the fact that racialized groups experienced disproportionately high incidences of stops. In many cases these racial differences were quite high. In some cases, the differences could be explained by individual officer bias, whether implicit or explicit. However, the results are more likely explained by systemic racial profiling, which does not always require an officer to perceive the race of the driver before the stop. Traffic patrols in “high-crime” neighbourhoods, for example, may lead to more racialized people being stopped, even if the police officer does not perceive the race of the driver prior to the stop.

[29] Brownsupra note 6 at para. 44; Phipps, 2012, supra note 4 at para. 34; McKaysupra note 7 at para. 125; Pieterssupra note 4 at para. 72; Peartsupra note 4 at para. 95.

[30] This research is described further in section 5.

[31]Jose Torres “Race/Ethnicity and Stop and Frisk: Past, Present and Future.” (2015) 9 (11) Sociology Compass 931.

[32] Although this study dealt primarily with traffic stops and outcomes, racial profiling can happen at any point in an encounter with police: surveillance, stops, searches, arrests and other outcomes.

[33] Foster, Jacobs & Siu, supra note 1 at 54.

[34] Many officers reported this to the Ottawa Citizen. Shaamini Yogaretnam, “New rights hearing ordered in 2005 racial profiling case” Ottawa Citizen (19 June, 2015) at A4.

[35] These include indifference, hostility to collecting data and reporting, a belief that racial profiling is good police work, or concerns that data that show racialized drivers are stopped disproportionately are easy to misinterpret. Richard J. Lundman, “Race and Ethnicity Missingness in the Traffic Stop Data Reported by 308 Massachusetts Police Agencies” (2012) 2(1) Race and Justice  42.

[36] Ibid., Institute on Race and Poverty, Minnesota State Wide Racial Profiling Report: All Participating

Jurisdictions (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Law School, 2003) at 31.

[37] See Alyson A. Grine & Emily Coward, Raising Issues of Race in North Carolina Criminal Cases (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC School of Government, 2014) online: UNC School of Government, http://defendermanuals.sog.unc.edu/race/2-police-investigation-stops-searches-and-arrests (retrieved November 8, 2016) at 2-33 – 2-34.

5. Context for the report findings

The results from the OPS data collection project are situated within a context of historical police/community relations with racialized and Indigenous peoples in Ottawa and Canada generally. Many Supreme Court of Canada decisions and research studies show that systemic discrimination in policing is a reality. The York University researchers’ findings are similar to the results of other research conducted on police bias. Like other cities in Canada, public trust in police in Ottawa has been affected by historical and ongoing concerns about racially biased policing.[38] These concerns, experiences, legal cases and research, both in Ottawa and more broadly, reinforce that the over-representation of racialized people in traffic stops in the Ottawa data is consistent with racial profiling.

This section describes:

  • High-profile concerns raised about the OPS and racial bias
  • Community perspectives about the report results
  • Research conducted in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. about racially biased policing.

5.1. Concerns about the OPS and racial bias 

Concerns about the OPS and racial bias or racial discrimination emerged before and after the complaint that led to the TSRDCP. These include:

  • Human rights complaints about an incident at the Ambassador Bar & Grill in 2004, where every Black patron inside was arrested, but not the sole White customer. The police claimed they were following a report of a Black man with a gun, which was not found. The settlement of these complaints led to the development of the OPS’s racial profiling policy.[39]
  • Two raids in two days of another Black-owned restaurant in 2004 to search for guns and cocaine. According to a media report, police retrieved a single gram of marijuana.[40]
  • An incident in 2008 where Stacy Bonds, a Black woman, was arrested, detained, charged and allegedly assaulted by OPS officers who strip-searched and left her half-naked in a cell before releasing her hours later. Two years later, a trial judge stayed the charges against her and remarked that the way she was strip searched and left in her cell without proper clothes was an “indignity towards a human being.”[41]
  • At least 11 human rights applications that were filed at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario against the Ottawa Police Service from 2009 onward, alleging discriminatory treatment that resembles what the OHRC would define as racial profiling. Several of these allegations involved incidents of traffic stops.[42] 
  • The over-representation of African Canadians in street checks conducted by the Ottawa Police Service between 2011 and 2014.[43]
  • An incident in July 2016 where Abdirahman Abdi, a Black man who was believed to have a mental health issue, was witnessed being struck repeatedly by OPS officers during an arrest. He died a day later. A group formed in the days following Mr. Abdi’s death, called Justice for Abdirahman Abdi, said that the incident “echoes the historic and systemic marginalization of Black People, Indigenous peoples and other People of Colour.”[44]
  • In September 2016, an Ottawa Police officer posted negative comments on Facebook about the death an Inuit woman named Annie Pootoogook. The comments made stereotypical assumptions about Pootoogook based on her Indigenous ancestry, saying that her death was not a murder, and characterizing Indigenous peoples as being alcohol and drug abusers.[45]

5.2. Community perspectives

The York University researchers’ report has been welcomed by various racialized groups, as it affirms the observations and experiences of many Ottawa residents. Yet, despite the high disproportionalities shown in the report, the OPS has been reluctant to acknowledge that the data is consistent with racial profiling. This has prompted the following response from the group Justice for Abdirahman Abdi:

…(the OPS leadership’s) stance is extremely disappointing and shameful. It is not an anomaly for the disproportionately targeted young Black and Middle Eastern males. It is insult to injury for those who bear an unfair economic burden because they are paying a disproportionate amount of the fines issued by police, simply for the colour of their skin.

We demand Chief Bordeleau and Mayor Jim Watson to come forward and acknowledge that racism is a problem and for the OPS to continue to collect race based data so that progress and improvement can be tracked.[46]

Ihsaan Gardee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), which is based in Ottawa, told OHRC staff that even if certain conclusions or causalities cannot be definitively made from the OPS report, it still raises important questions:

Our view is that when any racial group or ethic group finds itself disproportionately approached by measures of security agencies, it raises questions about racial profiling or bias…Why are there more Black and Middle Eastern people being stopped more than any other ethnic group? It highlights the need for further study to determine what the underlying factors are and establish the causality which the [researchers] were not inclined to do, and to develop actionable solutions to address these results.

Furthermore the communities in question who are being overly represented need to be genuinely engaged in ways that feel safe and not targeted for these proposed solutions to be effective and seen as credible. We need to genuinely listen to the experiences from a place of impact rather than intention. Inclusion is key to public safety, it's critical for building trust, which is a key part of community working with police.[47]  

The OPS report shows that that racialized drivers were more likely than their White counterparts to be “let go” without a warning or a charge. Chad Aiken says that this result speaks directly to the kinds of traffic stop interactions he has had with the OPS since he filed his human rights complaint:

I’ve been told that “you are in a neighbourhood that doesn’t usually have these types of vehicles”…Or questioned about driving a rental…questioned about having tinted windows. And over and over again, I am not charged with anything or given a ticket…it’s just harassment. This is happening to people of colour all the time. I hear the same stories, so I know it’s not just me.[48]

Aiken is not surprised by the findings of the report. He believes that a study conducted more independently of the OPS could show even greater disproportionalities. Moreover, he suggests that the researchers’ report is only scratching the surface in dealing with racial profiling and understanding its impact, especially since the focus was just on traffic stops.

He said,

If even they had a perfect study, it still doesn’t address what is happening in Ottawa. That’s because most of the people I know typically experience (racial profiling) when they are not driving.[49] 

For Mr. Aiken, the repeated stops in both his car and as a pedestrian have been so traumatizing that he recently decided to leave the city entirely. He told us,

I am afraid for my life in Ottawa. That’s why I moved out. All it takes is one officer to escalate a stop or detention, take matters into his own hands…and I could lose my life.[50]

Margaret Parsons is the Executive Director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC), which has been a strong advocate of addressing racial profiling in policing throughout Ontario. She concurs with Mr. Aiken that the results of the OPS Report make it “unequivocally clear that the Ottawa Police Service engages in racial profiling. It is a systemic practice and we have been hearing this from the community there for years.” Ms. Parsons added that much more needs to be done to improve relations between the police and African Canadians who have suffered many injustices due to the actions of the OPS, at least since the police killing of Vincent Gardner in 1991. She notes:

The Ministry [of Community Safety and Correctional Services] should mandate data collection across police services and go beyond traffic stops. The data should be released on an annual basis with clear benchmarks. Furthermore, police services as well as individual officers should be held accountable for their actions and commit to training in anti-Black racism and other forms of anti-oppression training. We have been literally been saying this for decades and our community has had enough.[51]

5.3. Patterns of racial profiling by police in Canada and other jurisdictions

The OPS results and community perspectives about racial profiling must also be considered in the context of broader concerns about racial discrimination in the criminal justice system as a whole. There have been indicators over the course of several decades that suggest that racialized and Indigenous peoples have experienced differential treatment in policing and law enforcement.[52] The Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly recognized the presence of anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism in society and the criminal justice system.[53]

The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, who recently visited Ottawa, stated in October 2016 that there is “clear evidence that racial profiling is endemic in the strategies and practices used by law enforcement” and urged the government to “develop and implement an African Canadian Justice Strategy to address the anti-Black racism and discrimination within the criminal justice system.”[54] The significant over-representation of Black and Indigenous people in correctional institutions continues to be a serious social issue today.[55]

Police racial profiling may contribute to racialized and Indigenous people’s over-representation in the criminal justice system.[56] Disproportionate representation of racialized and Indigenous peoples in police interactions has been documented in studies on police stop data, surveys of racialized people, reports on police/community relations and official inquiry reports.

5.3.1. Research on police stops in Canada

Relatively little quantitative research on racial profiling has been conducted in Canada. The OPS study is only the second study done in Canada where police have collected stop data. The first was done in Kingston, Ontario in 2003. The Kingston Police collected data on people’s race and other demographic characteristics during traffic and pedestrian stops over a one-year period. The results showed that Black residents were over-represented in traffic stops (2.7 times) and in pedestrian stops (3.7 times) compared to their representation in the city’s general population.[57]

Other studies in Canada have used survey research to draw conclusions about the incidence of racially biased policing. These studies affirm that African Canadian and Indigenous peoples are more likely to be stopped and searched by police than White people or people from other racialized groups. They also show intersecting factors associated with police stop and search practices including age, gender, socio-economic status, education, driving habits, time spent in public places, criminal behaviour, gang involvement and drug and alcohol use.[58]

Analysis of data collected by police has also revealed racial disproportionality. Several Ontario police services recorded data from “street checks” they conducted. These have revealed that Black, and in some cities, Middle Eastern and Indigenous peoples, were disproportionately stopped, questioned and had their information recorded, compared to their representation in the population.[59] For example, in Ottawa, the OPS’s street check data showed that between 2011 and 2014, 20% of people who experienced street checks were “Black” and 14% were “Middle Eastern.” These figures show an over-representation of these two groups, as Black people represent 5.7% of the city’s population and the Middle Eastern people 3.7%.[60]

Arrest and charge data collected by the Toronto Police Service has also shown that Black people were treated more harshly than White people upon arrest. It also showed that a disproportionate number of Black drivers were ticketed for violations that arose only after they were stopped.[61]

5.3.2. Research on police stops in the U.S. and the U.K.

Unlike in Canada, race-based data collection on police stops is required by law in the U.K. and is common throughout the U.S. Reports on data from these jurisdictions have repeatedly shown a pattern of racial disparity in police stops. Studies on data gathered by police services from several cities and states across the U.S. have shown that in general, African Americans, and to a lesser extent Hispanic Americans, are more likely to be stopped and subsequently searched by police than White people.[62] On the other hand, in the U.K., police data has shown that Blacks and Asians are disproportionately represented in stops and search incidents.[63]

[38] See for example, Ontario Human Rights Commission, Paying the Price: The human cost of racial profiling (Toronto, Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2003) online: Ontario Human Rights Commission www.ohrc.on.ca/en/paying-price-human-cost-racial-profiling at 25 -32; Sulaimon Giwa, “Anger Vented at Ottawa Police Racial Profiling Forum” rabble.ca (5 January, 2011) online: rabble.ca http://rabble.ca/news/2011/01/anger-vented-ottawa-police-racial-profiling-forum (retrieved November 18, 2016); CBC News “Racial profiling addressed by Ottawa police” CBC News (1 December, 2016) online: cbcnews www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/racial-profiling-addressed-by-ottawa-police-1.877113 (retrieved November 18, 2016).

[39] See CBC News, “Racial profiling policy under fire” 19 Aug, 2011 online: CBC news  www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/racial-profiling-policy-under-fire-1.986059 (retrieved November 9, 2016).

[40] “Police Hunt For Cocaine Leaves Restauranteur Puzzled”, Ottawa Citizen (August 26, 2004). Article reproduced at News Media Awareness Project, online: www.rave.ca/fr/news_info/132161/canada/ (retrieved November 7, 2016).

[41] R. v. Bonds, 2010 ONCJ 561 (CanLII) at para 27 [Bonds].

[42] An analysis of these applications was done by the OHRC, which receives applications from the HRTO as per section 38 of the Code.  

[43] Report of Chief Bordeleau to Ottawa Police Services Board, Ottawa Police Service Plan for Participation in Provincial Street Check Review (July 27, 2015)

[44] Justice for Abdirahman Abdi,“Public Statement from the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition”, (August 4, 2016) online: Justice for Abdirahman Abdi www.justiceforabdirahman.ca/ (retrieved November 7, 2016).

[45] Joe Lofaro, “Probe launched after Ottawa police officer accused of racist online posts on death of Inuit artist”, Ottawa Citizen (September 28, 2016) online: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/probe-launched-after-ottawa-officer-accused-of-racist-online-posts-on-death-of-inuit-artist (retrieved November 7, 2016).

[46] Online: Justice for Abdirahman Abdi www.justiceforabdirahman.ca/ (retrieved November 15, 2016).

[47] Interview of Ihsaan Gardee (7 November, 2016) Ontario Human Rights Commission.

[48] Interview of Chad Aiken (3 November, 2016) Ontario Human Rights Commission.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Interview of Margaret Parsons (28 October, 2016 & 16 November, 2016) Ontario Human Rights Commission.

[52] The African Canadian Legal Clinic has identified at least 15 reports since the 1970s dealing with police/minority relations in Canada. See African Canadian Legal Clinic, Anti-Black Racism in Canada: A Report on the Canadian Government’s Compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (July 2002). These reports include those of the Walter Pitman Task Force: Task Force on Human Relations, Now is Not Too Late (Toronto: Council of Metropolitan Toronto, 1977), a 1979 Report by Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter: Gerald Emmett Carter, Report to the Civic Authorities of Metropolitan Toronto and its Citizens. Toronto: s.n., 1979, and Stephen Lewis, Report on Race Relations (Toronto: s.n., 1979). Also see Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System, Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System (Toronto: The Commission, 1995). This report is based on the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System, which studied all facets of criminal justice and released the 450-page report in December 1995 with recommendations. To date, this is the most comprehensive report on the issues of systemic racism in Ontario’s criminal justice system.

[53] R. v. R.D.S., [1997] 3 S.C.R. 484 at para. 46; R. v. Spence, [2005] 3 S.C.R. 458 at para. 32; R. v. Williams, [1998] 1 S.C.R. 1128 at para. 58; R. v. Ipeelee, [2012] 1 S.C.R. 433 at para. 60.  

[54] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, “Canada: UN Expert Panel Warns of Systemic Anti-Black Racism in the Criminal Justice System” (21 October, 2016) online: United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20736&LangID=E (retrieved November 17, 2016).

[55] The Government of Canada’s Office of the Correctional Investigator reported that between 2005 and 2015, incarceration rates in federal prisons of Aboriginal offenders increased 52.4%, and 77.5% for Black offenders, while rates for White offenders declined during the same period. Government of Canada Office of the Correctional Investigator, “Administrative Segregation in Federal Corrections: 10 Year Trends” Toronto Star (May, 2015) online: www.oci-bec.gc.ca/cnt/rpt/pdf/oth-aut/oth-aut20150528-eng.pdf (retrieved November 7, 2016). African Canadians and Indigenous peoples are also over-represented in Ontario jails at both adult and youth institutions, among men and women. Jim Rankin and Patty Winsa (Staff Reporters) and Hidy NG (Data Analyst), “Unequal Justice: Aboriginal and black inmates disproportionately fill Ontario jails” (March 1, 2013) online: www.thestar.com/news/insight/2013/03/01/unequal_justice_aboriginal_and_black_inmates_disproportionately_fill_ontario_jails.html (retrieved November 7, 2016).

[56] Scot Wortley & Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, “Crime and Justice: The Experiences of Black Canadians” In Barbara Perry (Ed.) Diversity, Crime and Justice in Canada (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011b) 127, as cited in Scot Wortley, “A Double-Edged Sword: Carding, Public Safety and the Impact of Racialized Police Practices (Paper presented to the Ontario Human Rights Commission and York University Racial Profiling Policy Dialogue, 16-18 February, 2016).

[57] Although the study found that a small proportion of stops of African Canadians involved either criminal activity or suspected criminal activity, the researchers acknowledged that their report did not address other possible reasons for the disproportionality in the stops. Scot Wortley and Lysandra Marshall, The Kingston Police Stop Pilot Project: Final Results (Kingston: Kingston Police Services Board, 2005).

[58] Wortley, supra note 56; Scot Wortley & Akwasi Owusu-Bampah, “The Usual Suspects: Racial Profiling and Perceptions of Injustice in Canada” (2011a) 21(4) Policing and Society 395; Robin Fitzgerald & Peter Carrington, “Disproportionate Minority Contact in Canada: Police and Visible Minority Youth” (2011) 53 (4) Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 449; Scot Wortley & Julian Tanner, supra note 20; Steve Hayle, Scot Wortley & Julian Tanner, “Race, Street Life and Policing: Implications for Racial Profiling” (2016) 58 (3) Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 322.

[59] Kelly Bennett, “Hamilton police disproportionately stop and question black people” CBC News (23 July 2015) online: CBC www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/hamilton-police-disproportionately-stop-and-question-black-people-1.3165182 (retrieved November 10, 2016); Jackie Sharkey, “Carding: Who gets stopped for street checks in Waterloo Region” CBC News (9 April 2016) online: CBC News www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/carding-street-checks-waterloo... (retrieved November 10, 2016); San Grewal, “Blacks three times more likely to be carded by Peel police than whites” Toronto Star (24 September 2015) online: thestar.com www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/09/24/blacks-three-times-more-likely-to-be... (retrieved November 10, 2016); Jim Rankin, “Race matters: Blacks documented by police at high rate” Toronto Star (6 February 2010) online: thestar.com www.thestar.com/news/crime/raceandcrime/2010/02/06/race_matters_blacks_documented_by_police_at_high_rate.html (retrieved November 10, 2016); Jim Rankin & Patty Winsa, “Known to police: Toronto police stop and document black and brown people far more than whites” Toronto Star (9 March, 2012) online: thestar.com www.thestar.com/news/insight/2012/03/09/known_to_police_toronto_police_
stop_and_document_black_and_brown_people_far_more_than_whites.html (retrieved November 15, 2016); Jennifer O’Brien, “Carding stats show racial bias on police force, critics say” London Free Press (14 October, 2015) online: lfpress www.lfpress.com/2015/10/14/carding-stats-show-racial-bias-on-police-force-critics-say (November 10, 2016).

[60] Shaamini Yogaretnam, “Street checks data about racialized men concerning to civil liberties advocates” Ottawa Citizen (26 July 2015) online: Ottawa Citizen http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/street-checks-data-about-racialized-men-concerning-to-civil-liberties-advocates (retrieved November 10, 2016); Report of Chief Bordeleau to Ottawa Police Services Board, Ottawa Police Service Plan for Participation in Provincial Street Check Review (July 27, 2015) [Bordeleau Report].

[61] Jim Rankin, et al., “Singled out” Toronto Star (19 October 2002) online: thestar.com www.thestar.com/news/gta/knowntopolice/singled-out.html (retrieved November 10, 2016).  

[62] See Clayton Mosher, J. Pickerill, T. Pratt and N. Lovrich. 2008. “The Importance of Context in Understanding Biased Policing: State Patrol Traffic Citations in Washington State”. Police

Practice and Research 9 (1): 43-57; Greg Ridgeway, Analysis of Racial Disparities in the New York Police Department's Stop, Question, and Frisk Practices. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation (2007); Ronald Weitzer and Steven Tuch, Race and Policing in America: Conflict and Reform. New York: Cambridge University Press (2006); B Williams and M. Stahl, “An Analysis of Police Traffic Stops and Searches in Kentucky: A Mixed Methods Approach Offering Heuristic and Practical Implications.” (2008) Police Sciences 41 (3): 221-243.

[63] See James Riley, Cassidy Davnet and Jane Becker, Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System (2009). London, England: Ministry of Justice at 26-70.

6. Steps for further action

The OHRC agrees with and supports the recommendations laid out by the York University researchers. Specifically, the OPS should develop and implement solutions to address the anomalies of disproportionately high incidences of police stops of racialized groups. 

However, the main line of response of the Ottawa Police Service so far has been to deny the presence of racial profiling. We are concerned that time and effort may be spent to debate the implications of the severe racial disproportions uncovered rather than in efforts to proactively identify and eliminate discriminatory police practices that are likely causing them.

To take steps towards improving relations between these communities and the police, the heads of the OPS will need to show leadership and commit to combatting racial profiling as part of a comprehensive strategy. This includes adopting the recommendations set out in the report.

6.1. Re-conceptualizing community policing

Current community policing models, while well intentioned, may lead to aggressive tactics, with neighbourhoods with higher proportions of racialized groups being subject to a greater degree of scrutiny and crime enforcement by police officers. These practices may amount to racial profiling and decrease trust between police and the racialized and Indigenous communities they serve. Instead, the OPS and OPSB should consider models of policing that are preventative and foster police integration in the community. The OPS and the OPSB must reflect on how standardized practices such as police deployment techniques, intelligence-gathering, traffic stops, street checks and everyday police work may be creating barriers based on race and can be structured differently when dealing with marginalized communities.

Preventative approaches to policing could include more foot patrols and integrating officers locally through neighbourhood detachments. Building trust between the OPS and racialized and Indigenous communities must be a central component of any strategy to combat systemic racial profiling. Engagement with these groups has to go beyond fundraisers, athletic tournaments and other social events. Rather, a new approach to community policing should involve an ongoing, frequent and meaningful dialogue between officers specifically attached to specific areas and the residents who live in them.[64] In this way, crime prevention would be centered around partnership with the community and shared goals.

Further, in addition to having an appreciation of the culture and diversity of racialized and Indigenous groups, the OPS should recruit more racialized and Indigenous officers. The OPS officers who are themselves from traditionally marginalized groups must be a part of community policing.

6.2. Training

To heighten understanding of the nuances and various manifestations of racial profiling, training police officers is critical. However, training in isolation from other initiatives is unlikely to succeed in fostering a non-discriminatory environment. Training is not a replacement for thoughtful concrete action.

Racial profiling training should, among other things:

  • Educate officers on the history of stereotyping and racism against racialized
    and Indigenous groups
  • Clarify implicit and explicit officer bias and systemic racial profiling 
  • Involve local racialized and marginalized communities in design, delivery and evaluation, including identifying relevant racial profiling scenarios
  • Explain that racial profiling violates the Human Rights CodeCharter of Rights and Freedoms and Police Services Act with references to relevant case law
  • Communicate that racial profiling is unacceptable and will result in disciplinary penalties, up to and including dismissal
  • Incorporate role-play and scenario-driven learning modules to improve “street-level application and articulation,”[65] including scenarios dealing with suspect selection, detention, searches, arrests, immigration enforcement, use of force and conflict de-escalation
  • Be integrated into other training where it is particularly relevant, such as training on the OPS racial profiling policy.

6.3. Monitoring and accountability

To prevent discrimination in policing, there must be accountability throughout the system and ongoing monitoring. From a human rights perspective, it is not acceptable for an organization to choose to remain unaware of systemic discrimination or fail to act when it learns of a problem.

We acknowledge that the OPS has engaged in various activities to address discrimination and develop good relationships with communities. However, more must be done to focus specifically on racial profiling. The OPS has a responsibility to make sure it is not knowingly or unconsciously engaging in systemic discrimination. This takes vigilance and willingness to monitor and review numerical data, policies, practices and decision-making processes and organizational culture. Many strategies for systemic human rights change in policing can be found in the OHRC’s guide, Human rights and policing: Creating and sustaining organizational change.

The OPS must adopt human resource policies and practices that would allow for monitoring, evaluation and progressive performance management to explicitly look at human rights-related behaviour and activity. The OPS must also put in place procedures so that officers are disciplined, up to and including dismissal, when their behaviour is consistent with racial profiling. Such procedures must provide opportunities for the OPS to determine whether non-discriminatory explanations are applicable.   

The OPS must review its police complaints procedures to make sure they are accessible to members of racialized community groups and Indigenous peoples, including youth.[66]

The OPSB must mandate the permanent collection of stop data as a method of monitoring the OPS’s policy on racial profiling. This data collection and retention would involve not only vehicle stops, but also human rights-based data on all pedestrian stops, as well as searches, arrests, use of force incidents, and interactions where police officers ask about immigration status or conduct immigration status checks.

This data should be standardized, disaggregated, tabulated and publicly reported. The purpose of data collection is not to gather intelligence, but to identify, monitor and address discrimination and, ultimately, increase community trust. The data should be housed separately from intelligence or investigative data and not be accessed for these purposes. Data should also be collected in a manner consistent with Count me in!, the OHRC’s guide to collecting human rights-based data.[67]

Data collection on the behaviour of individual officers would ultimately provide an indicator of who may be engaging in biased policing in stops, searches and arrests, and will be useful for accountability purposes.

The OPSB must establish an independent monitoring committee to look at the OPS’s compliance with its policy on racial profiling, and evaluate the OPS’s progress as a measure over time. The committee must pay special attention to systemic racial profiling, and not just individual officer bias. Clear and transparent information should be provided to the public on racial profiling.

In addition, in its submission to the Independent Review of Police Oversight Bodies, which will be released to the public shortly, the OHRC calls for the development of a proactive, independent monitoring and enforcement body to analyze and address systemic discrimination in policing.  

The Government of Ontario must establish independent, arms-length and public monitoring of police services and their police service boards related to systemic discrimination, through:

  • Periodic audits
  • Inspections of policies, procedures, training, databases and records, and
  • Public reporting.

To ensure, at the highest level, accountability for racial profiling and racial discrimination, independent monitoring of the OPS and the OPSB related to systemic racial profiling is necessary.

The Government of Ontario must require police services to establish permanent data collection and retention systems to record human rights based-data on all stops of civilians, searches, arrests, use of force incidents, and interactions where officers ask about immigration status or conduct immigration status checks. The data should be standardized, disaggregated, tabulated and publicly reported by each police service.

[64] See the study focused on OPS and racialized youth in Ottawa. Giwa, et al., supra note 10 at 239.

[65] Toronto Police Service, The Police and Community Engagement Review (The PACER Report)
Phase II – Internal Report and Recommendations (2013) at 14 online: Toronto Police Service www.torontopolice.on.ca/publications/files/reports/2013pacerreport.pdf [PACER Report]

[66] Giwa, supra note 10.

[67] Ontario Human Rights Commission, Count me In! Collecting human rights-based data (2009), online: Ontario Human Rights Commission www.ohrc.on.ca/en/count-me-collecting-human-rights-based-data.