Ottawa

U of O review finds shortfalls in race training, data collection

A review into security policies and race at the University of Ottawa is recommending several changes, including more training for security staff and for the school to track the racial backgrounds of students.

Based on names, half of those stopped at university were racialized

Wiliston Mason, a community advisor and student at a University of Ottawa who was carded in 2019, wants to see the school take action on the recommendations. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

A review into security policies and race at the University of Ottawa is recommending several changes, including more training for security staff and for the school to track the racial backgrounds of students.

The report by Toronto employment lawyer Esi Codjoe is the second of two reports that follow the carding and arrest of student Jamal Koulmiye-Boyce in June and the the carding of student and community advisor Wiliston Mason in September.

Codjoe suggests the school begin collecting race-based data on its students, provide more training including ongoing race theory and inclusion training to security guards and define what it means to be a suspicious person on campus.

She also recommends security staff carry business cards so they can easily provide their contact information. 

Last year, a security guard asked Mason for his identification while he was walking into the building where he lives and works.

"Honestly, I think about it almost every time I enter the building," Mason said Tuesday.

The education student wonders what it was about him that led the security guard to stop him. He is 23 but looks young, he said. He is also black.

"It's obviously not fair. Like I've literally done nothing wrong."

The security guard who stopped Mason is no longer allowed on campus. 

Names may suggest a bias

Codjoe reviewed 426 security reports from 2014-2019 and found, based on the names of individuals stopped, half were "not traditionally western European in origin."

The racialized population of Ottawa is about 26 per cent, suggesting racialized groups may be over-represented in the number of students stopped by security staff, she said.

She notes, however, the population of U of O may be more diverse than the general city due to the number of international students.

In a news release Jacques Frémont, president of the University of Ottawa, said he accepted the conclusions of the report and committed to continuing efforts to address racism and discrimination on campus. (CBC)

Mason was disturbed but not surprised.

"It's definitely concerning seeing those numbers especially given the census data for Ottawa," he said.

Mason welcomed Codjoe's recommendations, particularly the need for staff to carry contact information and the idea there is no profile that captures who belongs on campus. 

"There is no one set model or description that fits what a student is," Mason said. "I think having that explicitly stated in the report is very necessary."

Mason remains hopeful the recommendations will have an impact if the school turns them into action.

He said many of the same points raised by Codjoe were raised in an open letter from students in October which he says has not yet been adequately addressed. 

University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont said in a news release Tuesday the school accepts the conclusion of Codjoe's report and is committed to continuing efforts to address racism and discrimination.

In October, Frémont assembled an advisory committee for a discrimination-free campus, on which both Koulmiye-Boyce and Mason are members.

The school also adopted interim measures to limit carding and provided unconscious bias training to security personnel, among other steps.

Codjoe described the changes as "some good work" but said there's still room to improve.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

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