Ottawa police are beginning a controversial two-year project documenting the race of drivers during traffic stops.

The Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project is designed to find out how much race influences the decisions police make when they pull someone over.


Matt Skof of the Ottawa Police Association says the Race Data Collection program is a no-win for police.

A test phase was implemented for three weeks in May. Starting on Thursday, all officers will begin marking down the perceived ethnicity of motorists.

The project is the result of a settlement in the case of Chad Aiken, a young black man who was stopped in May 2005 while driving his mother's Mercedes and who recorded an officer being abusive.

Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Ottawa Police Services Board agreed that police would begin to track race data.

"This is a step backwards in community relations, I don't consider this a step forward," said Matt Skof, President of the Ottawa Police Association.

Skof said the Race Data Collection program is a no-win for police.

"Those who are detractors will basically say we've fudged the numbers, you did it on purpose. If we stop people in a disproportionate number, people will say you guys are racist," he said.

Project will not reveal "bad apples"

Les Jacobs of York University developed the new system with Ottawa police and said that since officers won't be identified, it won't reveal "bad apples."

"What we will be able to have is a reasonably comprehensive picture about traffic stops with race," said Jacobs.

"It's police officers who are entering the data. They're actually recording details about the driver and their perceptions. If they are not co-operative then your data is going to be poor," he said.

Skof says the union and leaders from minority communities had input on the development, but he still worries about the damage on the police's public perception. 

"It's this constant assumption and prejudism that police care about race. I could care less about race," said Skof.

A spokesperson for Ottawa police said there is a chance the program could be extended after the two-year period.