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Lack of progress in addressing racial profiling in policing: An Ontario Human Rights Commission statement

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March 5, 2015

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Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling concern of the African Canadian community, other affected racialized communities, and of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “OHRC”).  In the past few years, many racialized people have experienced carding as yet another form of racial profiling. 

The OHRC has frequently identified two key issues in the Toronto Police Service Procedure on Community Engagements that are critical to prevent racial profiling. To be consistent with the Human Rights Code and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Procedure:

  • must guide and limit officer discretion to stop and question people, in its definition of “public safety purpose”, and
  • must require officers to tell the people they stop about their right to leave and the reason for the community engagement, as much as possible in the circumstances

Reform is long overdue, but the Toronto Police Services Board and Toronto Police Service seem to be at an impasse, resulting in yet another delay. 

Human rights concerns won’t disappear because “carding” has been suspended.  Racial profiling happens in a variety of police interactions, whether or not a “card” or “Community Safety Note” is created or entered into a database.  It often occurs in police stops and questioning, particularly when overly-broad discretion exists.

To prevent racial profiling, officers need clear and practical guidance in a definition of “public safety purpose” on what activities are prohibited and the limits of their discretion to stop and question people.  Such guidance already exists in the Board’s Policy on Community Contacts and should be followed.    

Many Black and other racialized youth in this city don’t feel safe to assert their right to not answer questions or to walk away from community engagements with officers.    

To prevent racial profiling, the pro-active rights-based approach of the Board’s Policy should be properly implemented by the Procedure.  Community members must know as much as possible in the circumstances about their right to leave and the reason for the community engagement.  A “know your rights” public education campaign, like that in Police and Community Engagement Review (“PACER”), cannot meaningfully advance a pro-active rights-based approach on its own.  It needs to happen on the ground in officer interactions with the public – and it needs to happen now, without further delay.