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5. Context for the report findings

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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 at 25 -32; Sulaimon Giwa, “Anger Vented at Ottawa Police Racial Profiling Forum” (5 January, 2011) online: (retrieved November 18, 2016); CBC News “Racial profiling addressed by Ottawa police” CBC News (1 December, 2016) online: cbcnews (retrieved November 18, 2016).

[39] See CBC News, “Racial profiling policy under fire” 19 Aug, 2011 online: CBC news (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: (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 (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: (retrieved November 7, 2016).

[46] Online: Justice for Abdirahman Abdi (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 (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: (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: (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 (retrieved November 10, 2016); Jackie Sharkey, “Carding: Who gets stopped for street checks in Waterloo Region” CBC News (9 April 2016) online: CBC News (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: (retrieved November 10, 2016); Jim Rankin, “Race matters: Blacks documented by police at high rate” Toronto Star (6 February 2010) online: (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:
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 (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 (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: (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.

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