Although we live in a multicultural society, the appearance of diversity and equality masks systemic racism in the lives of people of colour in implicit ways that work to marginalize individuals and communities.
Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and skin colour is a violation of people’s dignity, which can affect their ability to access basic services and the opportunities available to others. It negatively impacts the ability of individuals to live their lives freely and can infringe on their rights. For example, racial profiling, involves the disproportionate targeting of black, First Nations, and other racialized people by police and other authorities. This could involve police disproportionately stopping racialized people, questioning them, and recording their personal information in police databases. Racial profiling today is not necessarily the result of deliberate and explicit policies to target racialized people. It however is the result of other implicit systemically racist policies, that for example, surveil low income areas, which are often highly represented by people of colour.
We were present in the case of Jason Hill, who was investigated by the police for suspicion that he had committed 10 robberies. Although the evidence against Jason was flimsy and partially constructed by police, he was arrested and spent over 20 months in jail before he was acquitted.
While two Hispanic men were identified by witnesses as having committed the crimes, police arrested Jason, an Aboriginal man who insisted he was innocent.
During a suspect line up, Jason was put beside 11 Caucasian “suspects” and identified as the culprit, as the persons suspected of the crime were also people of colour. As a result of negligent investigation practices, racial profiling and institutional racism, Jason was arrested, tried, and wrongfully convicted.
After he was acquitted, Jason sought to hold the police accountable for his treatment and we stood with him. We argued that the police are not immune from liability under the law of negligence and that police officers owe a duty of care to suspects. The Supreme Court found the police department negligent in their investigation and in breach of Jason’s rights as the evidence in support of his innocence was ignored and led to his wrongful conviction.
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