Manitoba Sen. Murray Sinclair raises questions about racial profiling under new impaired driving bill

An Indigenous Manitoba senator raised concerns this week about how new federal legislation intended to curb driving under the influence will handle racial profiling by police.

Sinclair suggests body cameras, police reports to combat profiling during random traffic stops

Murray Sinclair, the 1st Indigenous judge in Manitoba and only the 2nd in Canada, was speaking at the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, on which he serves. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

An Indigenous Manitoba senator raised questions this week about how new federal legislation intended to curb driving under the influence will handle racial profiling by police.

"When I was a judge, I was stopped by the police on an average of twice a year for the period of time I was a judge, just so they could check my driver's licence. They always said it was part of their campaign to check for enforcement. They never charged me with any other offence," said Sen. Murray Sinclair during a Wednesday committee meeting.

"But it was interesting that none of my colleagues on the bench were ever stopped by police officers during the 28 years that I was a judge."

Sinclair, the first Indigenous judge in Manitoba and only the second in Canada, made the remarks to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, on which he serves.

The committee met Tuesday to discuss Bill C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code. The bill would give police officers the ability to demand breath or blood samples from people they suspect are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including cannabis.

Sinclair said that provision in the bill would make it easier for police officers to interfere with people's movements. He asked if the Department of Justice had considered measures to monitor it, like body cameras or requirements for officers to report who they stop.

Carole Morency, the director general and senior general counsel on criminal law policy for the federal Department of Justice, said there are other ways to address racial profiling. She pointed to law enforcement training and a requirement in the bill for the Justice Minister to present a report on the legislation's success three years after it takes effect.

"I know it's a serious concern, Senator, and I think that we'll certainly work to try to address that through the materials that we can develop," Morency said.

"And I think it would be part of our efforts going forward to establish some baseline and see how things are actually being implemented."

Since he arrived in Ottawa as a senator in 2016, Sinclair said he's been stopped by police three times — although the last time was for a selfie.

Roadside check stops raised

The subject of racial profiling was first raised in the meeting by Sen. Renee Dupuis, who asked why the bill didn't include use of roadside check stops, as opposed to random stops, in an effort to mitigate personal bias from officers.

Greg Yost, counsel on criminal law policy for the Department of Justice, said roadside check stops are costly and word of them spreads fast through social media.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould also brought up the issue during her appearance at the Senate Legal Affairs committee on Jan. 31 in response to concerns. She said mandatory alcohol screening is in place in almost 40 other jurisdictions around the world and has been proven to reduce death and injuries on the roads.

​"I want to be clear that mandatory alcohol screening does not change the responsibility that law enforcement has to ensure fair and equal application of the law," she said.

"Additionally, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights amended the preamble of this bill to ensure that it clearly articulates that all investigative powers must be exercised in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

The legislation was referred to committee by Senate in December.