Admission of racial profiling in Canada: What next?

Here’s an interesting “article”: in Canadian news today about the Kingston (I can only assume they’re referring to Kingston, Ontario) police force:

“Kingston’s police chief apologized to the city’s black community Thursday after a controversial study found officers are more likely to stop black people than whites.”

The police chief went on to specify that the officers themselves had no reason to apologise because:

“What we’re doing wrong if we’re doing anything wrong is systemic and that’s my problem.”

I think it’s great that the existence of a problem of racial profiling is being addressed. However, I find it fascinating that the chief of police is willing to carry the blame for a long tradition of systemic and institutionalised racism in Canada (although I realise that this is probably not his intention). As an individual and an authority figure, he can certainly exert some influence on the people under his command, while he is in command.

The problem, though, is that racial profiling is a symptom of a wider societal problem that reaches far beyond the police force. The roots of this problem are tightly intertwined with educational and political problems that also need to be examined. That being said, I’m sceptical about the exercise of looking at police practices in isolation from the social and cultural context within which they are located.

But, hey, it’s a start and I sure can’t complain about the issue being given some recognition and acknowledgement; enough so that an actual scientific study was conducted with the cooperation of the police force. I’m looking forward to hearing about what will be done at a concrete level once the report is fully analysed.

3 thoughts on “Admission of racial profiling in Canada: What next?

  1. Interesting piece indeed. Would like to see the actual scientific study (methodology and such). The most obvious part of the methodology that’s mentioned in the article is that the study comes from self-reported data. Police officers probably didn’t falsify the information they gave (although they might have hesitated a bit more when they classified those they stopped as “Black,” “South Asian,” or “Hispanic”). But we can get the feeling that they might have been a bit careful not to profile sensitive populations too much.
    In South Bend, a student (half Quebecker, half African-American) was saying that he got stopped by police 6 times in a single year, never for anything serious. He would “fit the description” of someone wanted by the police or, on one occasion, it was “a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.” This student apparently asked the police officer who told him this for a map of which parts of town he could go to… 😉
    In Bloomington, friends from Africa were saying that police stopped them frequently but became very friendly when they saw a non-American passport. It’s not skin colour police officers are after. It’s a specific “profile.”

    A fellow anthro student at UdeM was working as a border officer (Canadian side) as a summer job. Apparently, they were fairly clear about the “need” for profiling… Sure, they will randomly select someone, once in a while. But they’re trained to be suspicious of certain “types of people.” Or, at least, they were trained that way, a while ago. It’s probably not a great strategy to profile as anyone wanting to pass something through knows to just ask a quiet-looking girl to do it.
    Now, let’s be clear. Yeah, yeah, profiling is bad, lame, despicable, silly, damaging, etc. But the fact of the matter is that we all have tendency to gauge people quickly. Honestly, how do you react when you see someone dressed in one of those sleeveless jeans jackets go to an academic conference? Conversely, people at an anthro dept. reacted pretty loudly when they saw someone dressed in a three-piece suit (he was teaching at a military college).
    For some people, it’s part of the job, to gauge people. Now, what’s quite sad is that it takes “racial” lines. But that’s part of a broader dynamic. Sadly enough, there probably is more violence and crime among some of those populations, partly because of social conditions and the expectation of guilt. In Quebec, a few Haitians are using the stereotypes to scare people off or even to commit crimes. The source might be prejudice but prejudice entertains itself.
    What the article mentions but doesn’t delve upon is that some groups (especially “Asians”) seem to be stopped proportionally less often. A complete study should explain this too. Is it because they tend not to get involved in situations requiring police intervention? Is it because they’re “profiled” as being too quiet for criminal activities?
    From the article:

    black people comprised 0.6 per cent of the population; however, they accounted for 2.2 per cent of all stops

    and then

    Asians make up 2.5 per cent of the population, and accounted for 1.0 per cent of stops

    It’d be great to have all of the statistics but the second one seems about as significant as the first one. There are more than five times more “Asians” than “black people” (original capitalization), yet “Asians” are stopped much less than “black people.” It seems that “white people” were stopped pretty much proportionally to their demography (92.7% pop., 92.6% stops).
    To spin it another way: “Kingston police profiles Asians as law-abiding citizens.” Nice headline?
    Other obvious thing to note, the concept of “race” is taken as a given and “Hispanic people” (an ethnic category) are described along the “racial minorities” of “Asians” and “South Asians.” Wonder where they put West Asians… 😉

    Still, it’s great that the Kingston police is “doing something” about racial profiling. After all, police officers might not all be the close-minded bigots some people make them to be! 😉

  2. Alexandre;

    I agree with pretty much everything you say here. I had noticed as well that the article merely mentions how Hispanics and Asians were underrepresented in the random arrests.

    What I also noticed was that Aboriginals were overrepresented but that they added that little comment about how the numbers stabilise when they account for mutliple arrests of the same individual. What’s up with that I wonder? If Kingston is anything like Montreal, there are many homeless Aboriginal youths who ran away from their communities. Unfortunately, many of them have problems with drug or alcoholol abuse.

    If this is the case, I suspect that this is the sub-group of Aboriginals they particularly have a tendancy to stop repeatedly, as happens here. These youths may be repeatedly stopped for questionning or arrested due to being intoxicated, even when they’re not actually doing anything wrong. This, of course, is part of the wider picture as well, that of historic oppression of Aboriginals and what has led their communities to have so many social problems that their young people flee to the cities, where other problems await them. This is an issue that concerns me a great deal.

    Anyway, you’re right about “Kingston police profiles Asians as law-abiding citizens.” making an interesting headline. It would sure throw readers for a loop! I remember reading an article a couple of years back in the Montreal Gazette about how Chinese crime is not dealt with very much by the authorities becuase it takes place mostly among the Chinese themselves. I wonder if there’s something to that.

  3. The real I.D. act will take effect in 08.The new I.D. will contain RFID technology.This new technology will allow the govt to track these cards anywhere in the world via satelite.These cards will hold information about your whole life down to your dna and a reitna scan.So you see we will all be montitored starting in 08.The govt will be able to track anyone with this card.Without this new ID card you will not be able to open a bank account or fly.So you see in the near future there will be no racial profiling because if you dont allow them to track you 24/7 with your new ID your not getting on a plane or even opening a bank account.Do you trust the Federal Govt to Monitor your every move in the name of national security?It seems I have read a warning about this some where oh yeah the BIBLE!

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