Ottawa

Black, Middle Eastern drivers still stopped at disproportionately high rates in Ottawa

Ottawa police continue to stop black and Middle Eastern drivers at higher rates than expected based on the city's demographics, suggests the latest report into traffic stops.

Latest traffic stop data 'consistent with findings of racial profiling'

York University researcher Lorne Foster is one of the lead researchers behind a new report looking at race data at traffics stops by Ottawa police. (CBC News)

Ottawa police continue to stop black and Middle Eastern drivers at higher rates than expected based on the city's demographics, suggests the latest report into their traffic stops.

A research team from Ontario Tech and York universities found young, male Middle Eastern and black drivers face "disproportionately high" traffic stop rates which "cannot be justified and are consistent with findings of racial profiling by other police services."

The 69-page report, along with a 2019 audit report into diversity at Ottawa police, will be presented at a technical briefing at city hall Wednesday morning.

Its findings are based on police officers's own perceptions of driver race at 96,436 traffic stops in Ottawa from 2015 to 2018.

In 2017 and 2018, Middle Eastern drivers were stopped 3.18 times more than one would expect based on the population of Middle Eastern Ottawans who drive, while black drivers were stopped 2.3 times more.

These results show little change from the last report from 2013 to 2015, which found drivers seen as Middle Eastern were stopped about 3.3 times more than what one would expect and drivers identified as black were stopped 2.3 times more.

"The continued adverse impact of traffic stop enforcement on certain racial communities strongly points to the importance of the Ottawa Police Service to explore alternative practices that can advance community safety," writes the research team leads.

The researchers found black and Middle Eastern young men in particular are over-represented, although there has a some improvement.

In 2017-2018 young black males age 16 to 24 were stopped 6.7 times more than one would expect and Middle Eastern young male drivers were stopped 8.7 times more frequently.

Taking into account all five years of data, the researchers say young Middle Eastern males saw a 30 per cent reduction while young black males saw a 23 per cent reduction in the rate of disproportionate traffic stops between 2013 and 2018. 

The researchers note they did not find a higher rate of charges against racialized communities compared to white drivers — who were most likely to be charged when stopped. 

'Very, very disappointed'

Sahada Alolo, community co-chair of the Ottawa Police Community Equity Council, was "very, very disappointed" to read the report.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that from the first report we've [only] seen a slight change. For me the change doesn't really mean much to community members because the impact is still there," she said.

Sahada Alolo is a community co-chair of the Ottawa Police Community Equity Council, which works to strengthen the force's relationship with racialized, Indigenous and faith-based communities. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The research team makes several recommendations to the Ottawa police, including permanently tracking race of drivers stopped by police, a pilot program to test the use of body cameras on police officers and exploring ways to check implicit bias using artificial intelligence.

After meeting with Ottawa's new police Chief Peter Sloly Tuesday, Alolo said she's confident leadership at Ottawa police will make changes.

"We are looking forward to [the report's] recommendations being put into an action plan," she said. 

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly speaks during his first police services board meeting since taking over the top job Oct. 28, 2019. (CBC)

Alolo said Sloly pledged Tuesday to continue to collect race data at traffic stops so police can track changes over time.

She said the council will hold police accountable if there's a lack of progress.

Ottawa police first agreed to collect race-based data as part of a settlement in the case of Chad Aiken, a black man who was 18 when he was pulled over in Ottawa while driving his mother's Mercedes Benz in May 2005.

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.

With files from Hillary Johnstone

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