A friend shared a disturbing encounter he had with police a couple of months ago. The family was dropping their son back to college after reading week when their car was pulled over. After ticketing the driver (the older son) for speeding, the police officer looked around the vehicle and asked how the occupants were related to each other. Upon being informed that the two young men were the couple’s sons, the officer remarked that one of them did not look like he was their child! He then proceeded to give the couple who was seated in the back a ticket for not wearing seatbelts.
Taken aback by the line of questioning and multiple tickets, and fearing greater repercussions, the family refrained from saying anything further. But they wished they had a dash cam to record their experience and present it as evidence when they appealed the tickets in court.
To answer the question uppermost in our minds… Yes, they felt that the treatment they received had racial overtones. They had been stopped in a predominantly white neighbourhood where a customer had hurled racial slurs at their son at his workplace a few weeks earlier.
In 2015, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) began a year-long consultation to learn more about the nature of racial profiling in Ontario. After around 1,650 individuals and organizations shared their experiences, there was concern about racial profiling in policing across the province.
At the time OHRC noted conscious or unconscious bias may affect the way police deal with an individual and immediate steps must be taken to prevent that.
Yet four years later in 2019, an OHRC report on race and policing shockingly revealed that a black person in Toronto is nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be shot and killed by police.
Bias and stereotyping can play a big role in officers’ decisions of who to stop and why. This affects many racialized groups, not just black people. Over the years several South Asian friends have shared similar experiences of racial profiling with local law enforcement.
Random carding (police street checks based on ‘suspicion’) , which became the spotlight of racial discrimination, may have come to an end in 2018 but mindsets have yet to change.
A twenty-something South-Asian man was stopped several times by police when the practice of carding still existed. His dark skin and the fact that he wore a toque, may have given the impression that he was black. Afraid that one of these encounters with police may lead to further mistreatment, his mother advised him to abandon the headwear.
Another South-Asian man of the same age shared how he was pulled over by police after exiting Hwy 401. Alleging that he was speeding, the cop proceeded to scream and threaten him with severe punishment. The young man’s attempts to explain that the roadblocks at the exit prevented speeding made the officer even more angry. Luckily for the man, his mother who was part of the judicial system, happened to be on the phone with him and heard the entire conversation. She told the cop that she would report him for harassment and racial profiling, and he backed off.
A friend who got into a fender-bender in a predominantly-white neighbourhood, also felt he was unfairly penalized because of his ethnicity. He claimed that the white police officer refused to hear his side of the story and held him solely responsible for the accident.
While not all police are racially motivated, some are influenced by race and religion in their dealings. A white person is likely to be less policed and has less to fear when stopped when compared to individuals from racialized and low-income communities, one white man admitted.
Minorities often feel that they have no choice but to comply with police because protesting their innocence could be construed as resistance and then who knows where that might lead.
Acknowledging that racial profiling exists is a critical first step towards rectifying the problem. Collecting race-based data will expose the extent of it. Retraining law enforcement personnel and hiring more visible minorities will help reduce the risk of it happening. After all, we should not have to fear the very people who are supposed to protect us.