Ontario Human Rights Commission unveils new policy to tackle racial profiling

By The Canadian Press
September 20, 2019 - 9:32am

VAUGHAN, Ont. — Police officers who are guilty of race-based discrimination should face disciplinary measures that include firing, the Ontario Human Rights Commission said on Friday as it released the country's first policy on racial profiling.

Profiling by law enforcement is profoundly harmful to black, Indigenous, and other racialized communities and must be acknowledged, the commission said.

"Eliminating racial profiling is essential to upholding the rule of law, promoting public confidence and providing safer communities," chief commissioner Renu Mandhane said. "In 2019, Indigenous peoples and racialized communities expect and demand concrete actions."

The policy, called Eliminating Racial Profiling in Law Enforcement, identifies seven main principles and practices aimed at affecting needed change when it comes to treating people as more likely to be criminals based on their skin colour.

Key among them is having police collect race-based data when it comes to a broad array of encounters between officers and civilians. Such information then needs to be properly analyzed to uncover whether certain groups are being unfairly targeted, and whether some officers are unfairly targeting them, the commission said.

"We call on (police) to develop and implement a permanent system to record and analyze race-based data, to develop an early intervention system that alerts supervisors to potential problems, and to take appropriate remedial action when an officer's behaviour raises concern," the policy states.

The provincial government, the report says, should implement regulations that include mandating a broader collection of race-based data. In addition, anti-racism and human rights should be a "core competency" when it comes to hiring police chiefs and senior officers, Mandhane said.

The commissioner praised the Toronto Police Service for approving a data-collection policy this week that will make the force a leader in the country.

The commission's new policy, based on a 2017 consultation report called Under Suspicion, calls for acknowledgment of the reality of race-based profiling and the impact that it has on its victims.

Sharmaine Hall, executive director with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, said the black community knows that reality all too well.

"Black Ontarians live the experience of anti-black racism," Hall said. "The fact is simply this: Racial profiling is a daily reality for black people in Ontario — whether driving, shopping or simply walking down the street, black Ontarians face unjustified invasive and discriminatory behaviour, scrutiny and treatment."

Among the host of other recommendations the commission wants implemented is improved, independent and transparent oversight of police services and their boards.

The policy calls on front-line officers to wear body cameras. It also urges tracking all use of force incidents in extensive detail, including information on race, age and gender of subjects and the identity of the officers involved. Supervisors should review such incidents to see whether racism played any role, and should be held accountable for poor profiling behaviour of subordinates, the policy says.

"Officers should be disciplined, up to and including dismissal, when officer behaviour is found to be consistent with racial discrimination," the policy states.

Paul Pedersen, head of the Ontario Association of Police Chiefs, said law-enforcement leaders in the province are committed to more accountability. He also spoke in favour of the collection of race-based data.

"It is one of the principles that we are committed to bringing to life," Pedersen said. "I'm looking forward to some instruction from the Toronto police service and the commission on that — how they were able to make that happen in Toronto that can be replicated across the province."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2019.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said the new policy was called Under Suspicion

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