Nova Scotia

Racial profiling studied as N.S. Human Rights Commission turns 50

Social work students examine Sobeys racial profiling case and how anti-black racism manifests itself in many different ways, like in cases of racial and criminal profiling.

'Anti-black racism leads to a wealth of inequalities,' Tyler Upshaw says at special conference

The African United Baptist Association boycotted Sobeys until the large grocery chain agreed to take steps to end consumer racial discrimination. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission marked its 50th anniversary Friday with a conference looking at racial profiling, among other things.

One African-Nova Scotian man who was raised in public housing says anti-black racism in this province manifests itself in many different ways, including in cases of racial and criminal profiling.

"In criminal profiling, you're looking for behaviours and you get a brief description of a person," Dalhousie University social work student Tyler Upshaw said.

In racial profiling, "you kind of [attribute the crime to] people who may fit that description based on the colour of their skin.

"Also, anti-black racism leads to a wealth of inequalities, especially when it comes to employment."

According to 2011 data from the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs, African Nova Scotians had a rate of unemployment higher (14.5 per cent) than the rest of Nova Scotia (9.9 per cent).

"And the implications of this are strong because when we have these discrepancies between employment, we see folks fall into the margins," Upshaw said.

Sobeys racial profiling

On Friday, Upshaw and three of his classmates presented a panel on Andrella David's consumer racial profiling case against Sobeys

Last year, a Nova Scotia human rights tribunal ruled that David, who is black, was a victim of racial profiling when she was wrongly accused of shoplifting at a Tantallon, N.S., Sobeys in 2009.

Andrella David was standing in line to buy ice cream at Sobeys when a staff member accused her of being a thief. (CBC)

Sobeys originally appealed the tribunal ruling but later withdrew its appeal as part of a settlement reached with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. The grocery company has agreed to train all of its employees on racial profiling and discrimination.

'It's still prevalent'

Upshaw doesn't know David but said her human rights case hit home for many African Nova Scotians.

"Racial profiling, it's still prevalent and it's harmful to a lot of racialized folks — and it's not just black folks either," he said.

Dalhousie University social work students, Brittany Orchard, left, Katrina Braun, Tyler Upshaw and Jillian Dollimont, spoke about the Andrella David human rights case against Sobeys Friday in Halifax. (Sherri Borden Colley/CBC)

Upshaw, who is bi-racial, said he experienced racial profiling in his younger years because of his colour and where he lived.

"I do come from the lower-income community of Mulgrave Park, and the manner in which I carried myself and dressed was often an indication of my class," Upshaw said.

"That in conjunction with the racial piece was often a reason for folks in retail establishments and service establishments to, I guess, pay extra attention to myself and my friends."

'Classism and racial profiling'

Upshaw is fair-skinned. His friends had darker complexions.

"Any time we'd walk into a store, we were immediately looked at and if we had backpacks on, we were asked to check our backpacks at the front," he said.

Today, Upshaw said his experience with racial-profiling is "virtually non-existent."

"However, I can certainly speak to my mother's experience," he said. "She's quite a bit darker than I and without a doubt, every time she goes into a store, she's often subjected to instances of classism and racial profiling."

Stepping up

Upshaw's white classmate, Jillian Dollimont, said hearing stories like those forces her to ask herself how she would respond if she witnessed racial profiling in a store.

"What would be my responsibility in that?" she said.

"Do I have a responsibility in that? Do I be one of these passive bystanders that just watches this happen or do I have a place to stand up? Is there space for me to stand up and say, 'you know, she's just shopping, we're all just shopping'."

'Always be aware'

For Brittany Orchard, a middle-class white woman, the David decision revealed the role that race plays in the everyday lives of people of colour and how her own actions and assumptions affect people around her.

"What I learned from this case, my role is to continue to be aware of how my actions might in some way be oppressive even on an unconscious level, which is what happened in the David versus Sobeys case," she said.

"It's important to always be aware of how I have certain power in situations and how I use that power."

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts. To get in touch with Sherri email