Ontario Human Rights Commission
Response to the Race Data and Traffic Stops in Ottawa Report
November 28, 2016
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.