Ontario Premier must act against racial profiling by police

First published: June 03, 2005

Premier Dalton McGuinty cannot talk out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to racism on police forces in Ontario. He was quick to denounce racial profiling late last week in the wake of a shocking study done by the Kingston police force proving officers stopped blacks three times more than whites. But, McGuinty also said he would not impose mandatory studies for all forces.

This is not acceptable.
In the wake of the Kingston study, a cloud is being placed overall all police forces. It found that, while blacks make up less than one per cent of the total population in the city, police stopped them three times more often than whites. About 10 per cent of the stops ended in arrest for blacks, as opposed to six per cent for whites.

The study ignited a debate across the province, as anti-racist groups demanded police across Canada end the debate and begin fighting racism in police forces.

Started in October 2003, the study was heralded as a breakthrough, since many forces, particularly those in large urban centres have faced allegations of racism for years. However, recently York Region initiated a number of steps to reduce racial profiling. Even Toronto’s new police chief, Bill Blair, acknowledges racism exists on his force. The Toronto Police Services Board expects to do a similar study to the Kingston one starting within the next eight months.

Many cities in the United States and more than 20 states (and Great Britain) are taking steps toward formally gauging patterns of racially bias policing. The trend is growing, but McGuinty does not want to provide the leadership, instead, he argues the province should let police forces deal with the problem on their own.

Racism is a serious problem in Canada, in a 1989 report entitled Eliminating Racial Discrimination in Canada, it said individual racism is deeply embedded in Canadian culture and between 12 to 16 per cent of Canadians admit to strong intolerance based on race and 94 per cent of job-agency recruiters indicate they rejected job seekers based on race. There are many other studies showing the lack of tolerance for minorities in Canada.

In Northumberland County, the issue of racism in local police forces almost seem ludicrous. Firstly, the ethnic population within the county is very small. There is a sizable number of aboriginal residents in Alderville. But, it would appear a vast majority of those dealing with police are white. Therefore, why waste time and money doing a study?

It would be difficult to gauge if a problem did exist, since minorities tend not to speak out for fear of further intimidation and isolation from the community. So it should not be surprising no anecdotal evidence exists.

Also, the recent community study done by the Cobourg Police Force released last week shows strong support from residents. In fact, taxpayers surveyed overwhelmingly endorse increasing the number of officers, an indication they are willing to invest in the force. It does not seem fair that this black cloud hang over the heads of frontline officers.

There are other problems doing this kind of study. In an article in the Saturday edition of the Toronto Star, some issues with these types of studies include the kind of information gathered by front-line offices may not be clear. There is also are concerns with the methodology, falsification of information by officers, who does the analysis and what happens, as in the case of Kingston, when the figures are not flattering.

Northumberland County residents have a right to be proud of their police service. The front-line officers deserve support. And recently, there has been a great deal of pressure. Port Hope Police Chief Ron Hoath is currently locking horns with Port Hope council. Cobourg Police force is facing an uncertain future as Hamilton Township toys with the partnership. And despite the community support, Police Service Board members are musing loudly their concerns about the current contract negotiations with the Cobourg Police Association and the rising costs. This study pours gas on the fire for the officers.

So it would seem highly improper to suggest a racism study should be done. And yet, that is not true. The timing of such a study will never be perfect. It is not an issue anyone wishes to discuss. And that is why the premier must act independently.

McGuinty needs to undertake studies in forces across the province over the next few years, ensuring all forces – large or small, rural or urban, local forces and OPP – are covered. These would be paid for by the province and repeated on a regular basis. Without this kind of initiative, places like Northumberland will never be done. This must be a provincially driven process if there is any hope of it ever becoming reality.

Until the facts are in, nothing can be assumed. There are many excellent officers and staff who work for local police. But, there is no doubt; the same was said in Kingston. The stunning results demonstrate clearly, nothing can be taken for granted. The sooner this study is done, the more quickly any seed of doubt can be removed from minds of taxpayers.

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