CCLA is concerned by data indicating racial profiling by Ottawa’s police force. Drivers who appear to be Middle Eastern and black are disproportionately subjected to traffic stops, according to results from the Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project (the “Project”), recently released by the Ottawa Police Service.
CCLA recommends that any further action or study should more adequately address the racial profiling concerns that prompted the Project, and should determine whether and to what extent there is racial profiling in traffic stops by the Ottawa Police Service. Any further study or analysis in this regard must be undertaken independent of the police. CCLA also recommends that the data collection and study be expanded to examine racial profiling in pedestrian stops, and that all past and future data should be the subject of strict retention, privacy and destruction measures. The results of the Project show that greater accountability measures for police are still critically needed.
The catalyst for the Project was a concern about alleged racial profiling in Ottawa traffic stops, which came to light in the case of Aiken v. Ottawa Police Services Board before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The settlement in that case required Ottawa police officers to collect race-based data during regular traffic stops for two years, recording their perception of the driver’s race, age and sex, as well as the reason for, and the outcome of, the stop. A York University research team, led by Dr. Lorne Foster, Dr. Les Jacobs, and Dr. Bobby Siu, then studied the data.
Their report found that Middle Easterners were stopped 3.3 times more, and black drivers 2.3 times more, than is to be expected given their respective proportions of the Ottawa driving population.
Of the drivers stopped:
- 12.3% were perceived as Middle Eastern (who represent less than 4% of all drivers in Ottawa)
- 8.8% were perceived as black (who represent less than 4% of all drivers in Ottawa)
- Males aged 16-24 were pulled over more often than expected, given their proportion of Ottawa drivers
- Males aged 16-24 who were Middle Eastern or black were pulled over more often than their white counterparts
“Criminal offences” and “suspicious activities” were disproportionately cited as reasons for stopping racialized drivers, and “final (no action)” outcomes were disproportionately high among Indigenous, black, Middle Eastern and “other racialized” minority groups. The fact that many of the stops of racialized men for “criminal offences” and “suspicious activities” did not lead to a charge, arrest or detention suggests that racial profiling – through conscious or unconscious bias, systemic racism, or otherwise – may indeed be responsible for the large number of unnecessary stops.
The report recommended that the Ottawa Police Service determine the reasons behind these phenomena, whether they be systemic biases or specific policies, and develop and implement solutions, including a multi-year action plan to address the racial disparities demonstrated in the report. It also recommended that the Ottawa Police Service continue to collect race data in such stops and to make past and future data available to the public.
The Ottawa Chief of Police said that they will be following the report’s recommendation to consult the community in the creation of a multi-year plan to address the anomalies and other recommendations. The chief’s statement and the Ottawa Police Services news release asserted that the report does not conclude racial profiling. The report by the York University professors had stated that more research would be needed to determine the factors behind the racial disparities apparent in the data.
The data presented in the report appears to demonstrate the existence of racial profiling – whether deliberate, unintended, based on unconscious bias or systemic racism – in traffic stops by Ottawa police. A public response to the study by the Ontario Human Rights Commission also reaches this conclusion. In light of the data, the onus must now be on police to demonstrate if the stops were justified or not.
Indeed, CCLA is deeply concerned that that this report, presented almost 10 years after the Aiken complaint was filed, appears not to answer the very question at issue: whether and to what extent Ottawa police engage in racial profiling in traffic stops. The report and study were created specifically to provide a systemic remedy, and to collect data, in response to concerns about racial profiling by Ottawa police. Indeed, the African Canadian Legal Clinic, which represented Aiken in his complaint, has rejected the Report’s findings on the grounds that it was not conducted independent of the Ottawa Police Service.
CCLA recommends the following:
- Any further action or study must be undertaken independently of the police and must seek to answer the original question – whether and to what extent the Ottawa Police Service engages in racial profiling in traffic stops.
- Data collection and a study should also examine racial profiling in relation to pedestrian stops.
- The Ontario government introduced Regulation 58/16 under the Police Services Act, which, beginning January 1, 2017, will address certain aspects of police stops, provide some rights protection, and will require police to undergo training. Greater accountability measures are still critically needed, including periodic independent audits of police services.
- Strict data retention, privacy and destruction measures are needed in relation to data collected during police stops, past and future.
Dr. Lorne Foster, Dr. Les Jacobs, and Dr. Bobby Siu, Race Data and Traffic Stops in Ottawa, 2013-2015: A Report on Ottawa and the Police Districts (October 2016), available online: <https://www.ottawapolice.ca/en/about-us/resources/.TSRDCP_York_Research_Report.pdf>.