Critics demand proof non-whites aren't targeted in Edmonton police stops

Black Lives Matter Edmonton demands data to address concerns people of colour are stopped by police more often, as the United Nations finds carding disproportionately affects Canadians of African descent.

Police claim carding and traffic stops don't racially profile, critics demand the data to prove it.

Reakash Walters, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Edmonton, says it's time for Edmonton police to provide data to prove people of colour aren't pulled over at a disproportionate rate. (CBC)

Edmonton police need to prove people of colour are not disproportionately carded or pulled over while driving, says Black Lives Matter Edmonton.

The local advocacy group has joined other critics of vehicle stops and carding, which they say unfairly target non-white people.

"These are issues that I don't see facing folks who are not of colour," said Reakash Walters of Black Lives Matter. "I see these issues facing folks of colour. So often. We're criminalizing the colour of your skin.

"The next step would be to investigate it and respond to these community concerns."

Over the past year, Indigenous leaders in Edmonton, as well as lawyers and human rights advocates, have spoken out about carding — also known as street checks, the police practice of randomly stopping and documenting people who are not suspected of a crime.
Ahmed Abdulkadir says youth in Edmonton's Somali community often complain of being pulled over for no reason.

Last week, a community advocate revealed youth in Edmonton's Somali community complain of being stopped by police for no reason, especially those who are driving. Walters said the problem is widespread.

"I personally only have to look to my partner, who was just recently stopped and who is often stopped," said Walters, who is urging Edmonton police to produce race-based data on stops. "It's all around me and it happens on a fairly regular basis.

"If we are hearing it, and if there's repeated concerns from community groups ... then why would the police not respond by listening?"

UN: carding affects black Canadians more

The need for those statistics was also identified by a United Nations team that visited Canada earlier this month to study racism faced by people of African descent.

"There is a serious lack of race-based data and research that could inform prevention, intervention and treatment strategies for African Canadians," wrote the working group in a summary of their findings following visits to Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. "Authorities acknowledged that disaggregated data along ethnic lines is necessary to understand the human rights concerns of African Canadians.

"There is clear evidence that racial profiling is endemic in the strategies and practices used by law enforcement. Arbitrary use of 'carding' or street checks disproportionately affects people of African descent."

Earlier this week, the release of a "landmark study" that analyzed two years of data collected by Ottawa police found that Middle Eastern and black drivers were far more likely to be stopped.

Police participated in the study as part of a human rights settlement in the case of Chad Aiken, a black man who said he was taunted and punched by a police officer who pulled him over while driving his mother's Mercedes-Benz.

Walters said the benefit of Edmonton police voluntarily providing data would be to build trust with communities that don't always feel comfortable or have a strong rapport with police. The data should be gathered based on consultations with the black community, she suggested.

If there's repeated concerns from community groups ... then why would the police not respond by listening?- Reakash Walters

Earlier this month, Calgary's police chief announced carding procedures would be modernized and made more accountable, based on lessons learned in Toronto.

But a year ago, Edmonton police said after an internal review the service would not make changes to its street-check policy.

They reached that conclusion following a CBC Edmonton investigation into street checks that came after Ontario moved to ban carding, which was found to disproportionately target racialized groups.

Edmonton police declined to comment for this story.

A spokesperson said the service's position that street checks are not a problem hasn't changed. In previous interviews, local officers have said stops here are not motivated by race.

Police 'doing a great job'

That is also the experience of Sarmad Rasheed with Racism Free Edmonton. He said he has seen no evidence of racial profiling by Edmonton police.

"I'm proud to say Edmonton police services, they're doing a great job," said Rasheed, adding he works with Syrian, Iraqi and African communities. "They're very close to the community.They are always trying to build the relationship with the community.They're trying to be close and listen to the issues."

Rasheed said he was recently involved in programs to build bridges between police and minority youth.

"I never heard from any youth or any individuals that that [street stops] was a major issue for them," he said.

This month police received two awards for their community outreach in both the Indigenous and Syrian communities.

A report released last week praised EPS for its community-policing approach while suggesting more work was needed to improve relations between front-line officers engaging with Somali-Canadians.

A year ago, Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said neither the province, the Edmonton police commission or the Edmonton police department had received formal complaints about carding. It was difficult to comment on a problem that had not been brought to the attention of authorities, Ganley said.

Walters said her group plans to raise the stops issue with Ganley's department and would welcome hearing from city police. She said it's no surprise that those affected might not readily share their concerns with the police service.

"If folks are uncomfortable with the institutions then why are we asking them to again approach these institutions to share their stories?" Walters asked. "That doesn't make sense."

Added Walters: "They really need to listen. A lot of the issues that we have within our communities are because folks in positions of power and folks who have control in institutions are not willing to listen."

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca                       @andreahuncar

About the Author

Andrea Huncar


Andrea Huncar reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, youth at-risk and the justice system. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca