A YOUNG BLACK man is stopped by police for the third time this year whilebiking home from work. His backpack searched, his body patted down, hispockets emptied. A routine check? Unlikely. Can he grow up to expect the justice and fair treatment to which he is entitled?
When the term racial profiling became common-speak in the months followingSeptember 11, 2001, it was posited as a security procedure meant to weed outpotential terrorists. It became closely associated with the detainment ofpeople of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin, unjustly hauled up at theborder or interrogated without due cause.
Long before the first security certificate (used by police and government to remove a permanent resident suspected of terrorism, organized crime or human-rights violations) was ever issued, Black, Aboriginal and other communities of colour suffered from criminalization, heavy surveillance, high rates of incarceration, and routine police harassment and violence in Canada as elsewhere. Racial profiling is a manifestation of the same colonial legacy that enacted genocide on Aboriginal peoples, stole the children of those who remained, made it illegal during slavery for African Canadians to learn to read or write, and barred Chinese people from entering the country from 1923-1947. You could say racial profiling is as much a part of Canadian heritage as log houses and maple syrup.
In Racial Profiling in Canada: Challenging the Myth of a Few Bad Apples, by Carol Tator and Frances Henry, with chapters contributed by Charles C. Smith and Maureen Brown, Tator and Henry argue racial profiling by police and other institutions is conducted in the name of public safety, a framework that denies deeply rooted racism in White-dominated society through its claims of protecting (White) civilians from risky (ie. dark-skinned) populations.
Canada presents itself (to itself and to the world) as a colour-blind society âe" our official commitment to multiculturalism has shielded us from accusations of racism. It follows then that police practices cannot be grounded in race, absolving the White officer and the entire justice system of its clearly skewed detainment and incarceration rates âe" from 1986 to 1992, the Black imprisoned population in Ontario skyrocketed 204 per cent; Blacks only constitute three per cent of the general population.
Instead, police interrogations and violence are blamed on individual shortcomings and their seemingly troubled communities, assert Tator and Henry. In what authors call âeoedemocratic racism,âe âeoeracial discrimination cloaks its presence in liberal principles and values such as the preservation of the public good and the social order.âe
Tator is a course director in the department of anthropology at YorkUniversity where Henry is a professor emerita. Both women have writtenextensively on racism in Canada. This book is in response to the protest bypolice and government following the Toronto Starâe(TM)s controversial October 2002 series on racial profiling in the city, which sent then Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino and crew into a tizzy of denial.
Also in the Star, Fantino is quoted saying, âeoeWe do not do racial profiling. We do not deal with people on the basis of their ethnicity, race or any other factor. Weâe(TM)re not perfect, but you are barking up the wrong tree. There is no racismâe¦âe In the following weeks, he attended a series of town hall meetings with members of the Black community, where he brought a White statistician and White lawyer to refute the Starâe(TM)s findings, leaving little time for community members to respond or tell of their own experiences.
The authorsâe(TM) aim in this book is not to establish the practice of racial profiling âe" thatâe(TM)s already well documented. Still, Tator and Henry offer ample evidence to contextualize their claims: Canada has among the worldâe(TM)s highest incarceration rates of Black and Aboriginal people; police draw their weapons more often for minor offenses involving African Canadians than any other group (25 per cent of the time compared to 6.7 per cent of the time for Whites and âeoeothersâe ); African Canadians are stopped twice as often by police as Whites and are more likely to be detained before trial or be made to appear in court; in areas with large numbers of Aboriginal peoples, the practice of dumping young men on the outskirts of town leaving them to walk back in subzero temperatures is common (though largely undocumented) and has resulted in the freezing deaths of at least five young men in Saskatoon and Vancouver.
A significant contribution on racial profiling, the book combines vast research, statistics, narratives and critical theory to analyze the devastating consequence of racial profiling on mostly Black and Aboriginal communities. Tator and Henry reject the notion that racial profiling is the domain of a few bad officers. They believe it stems from systemic racism that permeates every social institution and element of culture, particularly police culture which encourages militarism, suspicion, secrecy, hyper-masculinity and a siege-mentality. While authors clarify that police culture is not monolithic, they suggest that because criminal profiling based on skin colour and elements of Black and hip hop culture (ie. baggy pants, a bandana and a swagger) is included in police training, it encourages stereotypical thinking about racial minorities. From there, criminal profiling and racial profiling become one and the same. âe Racial biases,âe they write, âeoebecome fixed ideas and images, which later become incorporated into departmental norms.âe
Chapters on the interlocking web of institutional racism, police culture andnarratives of denial are most telling on why efforts to halt racial profiling have thus far been unsuccessful. From the chapter, âeoeThe Dominant Discourses of White Public Authorities: Narratives of Denial, Deflection and Oppressionâe :
The discourse of denial of racism has become so routine at all levels that charges of racism âe" and the very suggestion that racism can influence social outcomes âe" have come to be perceived as serious contraventions of mainstream values and norms. Ironically, such charges are sometimes regarded as more serious infractions than overt racism.
Contributions from Smith on racial profiling in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom and Brown on counter narratives from African Canadians in Toronto also keep the work very poignant and prevent it from becoming preoccupied with the theoretical. Here Brown shares a series of interviews commissioned by the African Canadian Community on Racial Profiling that show the pain and anger felt amongst those targeted:
Some of my friends know them because they [the police in their area] beat them up before. Even when we are playing ball and we see them, we just drop the ball and run. What kind of life is that? Thatâe(TM)s not the life I want to live. I have no charge or anything like that. But I have to run because they are going to beat me too. I donâe(TM)t want to get beaten by any police.âe"Mica, late teens
While the book is highly in-depth and informative, the title is a bit of a misnomer as it largely tackles the profiling of Black Torontonians, to the detriment of other races in the rest of the country.Racial profiling does little in the way of catching criminals. Despite efforts to prove otherwise, Whites comprise 63.8 per cent of those arrested for drug possession and 52.2 per cent of violent charges. Yet, as Tator and Henry demonstrate, by criminalizing entire populations we sacrifice the human rights, dignity and safety of vulnerable communities whom police are mandated to serve and protect.âe"Shannon Devine
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