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1. Introduction

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On October 24, 2016, researchers from York University released their analysis of race-based data collected by the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) on traffic stops.[1] The OPS’s Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project (TSRDCP) came as a result of a human rights complaint made against the Ottawa Police Services Board by an Ottawa resident. He claimed he was arbitrarily stopped and detained while driving a car with several other passengers in 2005. The complainant, Chad Aiken, believed that he experienced discrimination because he was an 18-year-old African Canadian male, driving a Mercedes Benz, with four other racialized youth as passengers.[2] Mr. Aiken viewed both the stop and the subsequent treatment of him by the police as racial profiling and racial discrimination.

The Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) eventually reached a settlement in 2012. As part of the settlement, the OPS agreed that its officers would collect race-based data on traffic stops for two years beginning in 2013. The OPS fully complied with the settlement and even went beyond what was required in its data collection efforts, resulting in a comprehensive police data collection initiative. This was the first of its kind in a large urban setting in Canada.

The results from this data collection project show that “Middle Easterner” and “Black” groups have proportionately higher incidents of traffic stops by police in Ottawa. It is the OHRC’s opinion that the findings in the researcher’s report are consistent with racial profiling. These results cannot be easily explained by other factors.

The OHRC has done extensive work in the area of racial discrimination and racial profiling, and has made repeated recommendations to police services, government and other institutions to implement race-based data collection. Appropriate data collection is necessary for effectively monitoring discrimination, identifying and removing systemic barriers, ameliorating historical disadvantage and promoting substantive equality. Data collection is only a first step in addressing systemic discrimination. Where the data collected points to discriminatory practices, it should be accompanied by meaningful strategies for change.

This response provides our official interpretation of the researchers’ report results. This response will:

  • Describe the key findings in the report and explain why these are indicative of racial profiling
  • Discuss other explanations for the findings and identify how these do not adequately account for the results
  • Give context to the findings by outlining additional concerns about police racial profiling, both in Ottawa and more broadly in Canada
  • Provide recommendations for solutions to address systemic racial profiling in policing.

The OHRC’s recommendations should be read in conjunction with its recommendations in the submission to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services on its Strategy for a Safer Ontario,[3] and its submission to the Independent Review of Police Oversight Bodies, which will be released to the public shortly.

Overall, the OPS report results highlight the need for the Ottawa Police Service, other police services across Ontario and the government to put in place meaningful and effective measures, consistent with the report recommendations, to prevent and eliminate all forms of racial profiling.

[1] Lorne Foster, Les Jacobs & Bobby Siu, Race Data and Traffic Stops in Ottawa, 2013-2015: A Report on Ottawa and the Police Districts (2016) online: Ottawa Police Service (retrieved November 7, 2016).

[2] See Aiken v. Ottawa Police Services Board, 2013 HRTO 901 (CanLII).

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