Ottawa police race data 'consistent' with racial profiling: human rights commission

An Ontario Human Rights Commission report calls the analysis of the traffic stop race data collected by the Ottawa Police Service alarming and "consistent with racial profiling." Among other measures, it's calling for the police to make race data collection permanent.

Force should make race data public, Ontario Human Rights Commission says

Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Renu Mandhane told the Ottawa police services board earlier this week that the traffic race stop data is consistent with racial profiling. The commission's report released Tuesday re-iterates that stance, and makes recommendations for dealing with the problem. (CBC)

The findings from traffic stop race data collected by the Ottawa Police Service for two years "are alarming and are consistent with racial profiling," according to a Ontario Human Rights Commission report released Tuesday. 

The commission is calling on Ottawa police, the city's police services board and the provincial government to monitor "human rights behaviour and activity" on a permanent basis. In particular, the commission wants police to continue and expand its race data collection.

Study sparked by human rights complaint

A York University research team examined 81,902 traffic stops involving Ottawa residents from 2013 to 2015 where officers recorded their perception of the driver's race, as well as their gender, age range, the reason they were pulled over and whether the stop resulted in charges.

The study stemmed from a human rights complaint filed by Chad Aiken, a young black man who alleged he was discriminated against by Ottawa police when he was stopped while driving a Mercedes Benz. As part of the settlement, Ottawa police agreed that its officers would collect race-based data on traffic stops for two years beginning in 2013. 

The researchers found that Middle Eastern and black drivers were far more likely to be stopped by Ottawa police than other drivers. The results for young men aged 16 to 24 were even more stark: young black men were stopped 8.3 times more often than drivers at large, while young Middle Eastern men were stopped 12 times more often.

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau has said racial profiling has no place in society or policing, but has stopped short of admitting the practice exists on the force. (CBC News)

While Chief Charles Bordeleau has admitted racial profiling "can exist" in policing and society at large, he has always argued that the data does not prove racial profiling in practice.

But the commission isn't buying that.

While it's true that the analysis of the traffic stop data was not designed to prove "causation," according to the commission's report, nor can the traffic stop data results "be easily explained by other factors."

The commission's report explains that the racial profiling cannot generally be proven through a study alone. But it points out that courts and tribunals recognize that racial profiling "can rarely be identified by direct evidence; it will more often be proven by circumstantial evidence and inference."

And in the Ottawa police study, the commission found "the high disproportionalities found in this report are strong circumstantial evidence of the existence of some form of racial profiling."

The commission is concerned that because the Ottawa Police Service "has been reluctant to acknowledge that the data is consistent with racial profiling," the force will spend more effort debating the revelations in the report instead of identifying and eliminating "discriminatory police practices that are likely causing them."

Commission calling for action

The police services board agreed that the police, and other stakeholders, would take six months to develop a plan to deal with the high incidence of racialized drivers being stopped.

But the commission has its own ideas. It's calling for a number of measures, including:

  • For the police services board to mandate the permanent collection of stop data for both vehicles and pedestrians, as well as all searches, arrests, use-of-force incidents and immigrations status checks.
  • That all data be standardized and publicly reported.
  • For the Ottawa police to make sure its complaint procedures are accessible to members of racialized community groups and Indigenous peoples, including youth.
  • For the police services board to establish an independent monitoring committee to review the force's compliance with its police on racial profiling. (The Ottawa police policy officially prohibits "pretext stops," although the commission questioned whether there is a police culture that allows those sorts of stops in practice.) 
  • For the provincial government to establish independent, arms-length and public monitoring of police services and their police service boards related to systemic discrimination