Hamilton

Activists say police chief, board don't understand new rules for recording race stats

Local anti-racism activists say Hamilton's police chief and police board don't understand the importance of new provincial rules requiring police officers to record the race of people in cases involving a use of force. 

Police board critics say members don't understand how race plays a role in policing

Hamilton police chief Eric Girt worries the province-mandated Use of Force report puts officers in an awkward spot of having to guess a suspect's race. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

Local anti-racism activists say Hamilton's police chief and police board don't understand the importance of new provincial rules requiring police officers to record the race of people in cases involving a use of force. 

At last week's police board meeting, police chief Eric Girt said the implementation of the new rules requiring race data collection in Use of Force reports, is "problematic" and is being done in a way that is unfair to officers.

The new mandate has officers note and report the race of suspects they arrest with force based on seven categories — Black, East/Southeast Asian, Indigenous, Latino, Middle Eastern, South Asian and White.

The province hopes by collecting officers' perceptions of suspects it can expose any racial biases or stereotyping within police services.

Girt is not alone in having concerns about the new requirement and the use of the categories, since the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police has also expressed reservations to the province.

Girt told the board the new procedure would put officers in an unfair position of trying to assume a suspect's race.

"We've already expressed our issues through the OACP [Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police] about [having] seven categories only. We've expressed our issues with regard to [the] perception [of a suspect] versus the person's actual genealogy. I've expressed my concerns about the concept of race in the first place, which I believe is an artificial social construct," he said.

A document from the province says the categories were chosen in consultation with a variety of communities and while not based in science or biology, reflected differences that have been created by society.

A way to 'dismiss' race reporting before results come in, activist says

Kojo Damptey, the interim executive director at the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, tells CBC News he's worried about how these thoughts will seep into law enforcement.

"I think most of the folks sitting at the table don't have an understanding of what race and racialization does, especially in terms of policing," he says.

"They don't understand how it impacts many people in the community ... race has material implications for people who are racialized."

Kojo Damptey, the interim executive director at the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, fears police won't consider race when managing issues in the community. (CBC )

The rest of the members in the meeting stayed quiet as Girt responded to a question from board member Coun. Tom Jackson, using hypothetical examples in his explanation.

Girt told Jackson if he was an officer on duty, he wouldn't be able to differentiate someone who is south Asian (from a country like India) from someone who is southeast Asian (from a country like Thailand.)

Girt added that if he tackled a suspect wearing a hoodie in the dark, he might struggle to identify the suspect's race.

Ameil Joseph, an associate professor at McMaster University's school of social work, calls Girt's examples racist anecdotes without empirical support.

"The points of confusion miss an attention to historical and contemporary racism, systemically and structurally, which is why the data is being collected in the first place," he tells CBC News.

Ameil Joseph, an associate professor at McMaster University’s school of social work, says the comments at the Jan. 20 police service board meeting highlight a gaps in knowledge of race and racism. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

While Joseph, who unsuccessfully applied to be on the board, doesn't think Girt was being malicious, Joseph thinks the response is a way to "sabotage" the outcomes of the reports.

"It's a way to dismiss it before it is even carried out."

During the board's previous meeting in Dec. 2019, Patricia Mandy, member of the board, also said she felt the reporting would be more harmful than helpful noting it would "draw attention to race."

Concern about categories

Hamilton police wrote in a statement to CBC News that Girt understands the importance of race in policing and his main concern is the seven categories officers are forced to choose between.

"Putting individuals in distinct boxes with different labels is difficult when our society is so diverse, especially when officers are being required to make a judgment on race based on a brief interaction with an individual," reads a statement.

"This type of social/cultural construct can be limiting since it reduces people to a check box."

The service adds other forms of documentation like Statistics Canada, the Unified Crime Reporting Statistics and others include broader categories.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, the board's chair, didn't understand Girt's thoughts on race being a construct, but said he agreed with Girt's other concerns.

"[The report] puts the onus on the police officers and the opportunity for them to be criticized, or that issue being challenged, is kind of wide open," he tells CBC News.

"It leads to people potentially questioning how they filled out the form, does it become a legal issue?"

Hamilton police Chief Eric Girt worries the province-mandated Use of Force report puts officers in an awkward spot of having to guess a suspect's race. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Eisenberger called the mandate "unfair," saying it will create opportunities for people to discredit the judgment of the police officers. He added he doesn't think the report will "inform anything."

"Why are they being put in that position? I think that was the intent of the chief's kind of overall dialogue," he said.

But Brent Ross, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General says a use of force report would only be admissible as evidence at a disciplinary hearing under the Police Services Act to determine if an officer improperly submitted the form.

Joe Couto, the director of government relations and communications at the OACP, tells CBC News they have also voiced reservations to the Minister of the Solicitor General.

About the Author

Bobby Hristova

Reporter/Editor

Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca

With files from Samantha Craggs

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