Thursday, June 23, 2011

Not just a ‘wake-up’ call for Quebec

The recent report on Racial Profiling and Systemic Discrimination of Racialized Youth by Quebec’s Commission des Droits de la Personne et des Droits de la Jeunesse (Commission for Human Rights and the Rights of Youth) has received substantial praise from experts, authorities and community members since its release on March 25, 2011.

This report is the product of months of public hearings, at which seventy-five individuals, including researchers, community members, and representatives from various organizations and institutions, gave testimony, presented research, and offered analysis on racial profiling in Quebec’s public services. The Commission’s purported aim in this fact-finding mission was to ‘find solutions, not assign guilt’ in regards to racial profiling in Quebec’s Public Security Sector, Education Sector, and Youth Protection System.

In relation to the Public Security Sector, the Commission specifically recognized that “numerous studies have demonstrated that security forces, and notably the police, tend to scrutinize and suspect racialized minorities more often, without factual or valid grounds, and punish them disproportionately in the application of laws and by-laws”[Report, p.10]. With this in mind, the Commission explored an impressively broad range of topics relating to racial profiling in the context of policing and public safety. Firstly, the Commission examined “targeted scrutiny of racialized minorities”, including: racial profiling in the context of the fight against criminality and street gangs, the fight against incivility and the discretionary application of municipal by-laws, under-protection of racialized persons by the police, recognition and prohibition of racial profiling in laws and policies, data collection, supervision of police actions, and partnerships and accountability; secondly, the Commission investigated “recourse available for citizens”, including: the Police Ethics Commissioner’s system, Criminal Investigations of police incidents involving severe injuries or death.

Evidently, there is a great deal to be garnered from the Commission’s findings and 93 recommendations, which include ‘sweeping changes’ to the Quebec Charter of Rights, the Police Act, the police code of ethics and calls for more sensitivity training and an increase in the hiring of minorities.
Overall, this report is certainly deserving of all the accolades it has received and the Commission should be commended for this groundbreaking endeavour.

Whether the recommendations come to fruition, and lead to improved policy, procedures, and legislation is, however, an entirely different question. It is not clear whether this report, like most policy reports, will be a catalyst for significant reform and ultimately alter the behaviour of individuals. However, there is no question that the very existence of this report is a step in the right direction, as is the Commission’s realization that individuals who have experienced racial profiling want “an increase in society’s awareness of what they experience, along with an acknowledgement of the need for change and the implementation of concrete actions”[Report, p.3].

It is imperative to recognize, however, that the Commission’s findings apply not only in Quebec; all of Canada stands to benefit from this report and all Canadians should take heed of the recommendations.

Specifically, all Canadians should take note of the Commission’s finding that there is a significant dearth of data on racial profiling, particularly in the Public Security Sector. According to the Commission, the Kingston Police Service’s systemic data collection project is the only one of its kind. This fact is distressing. Without proper data to outline the nature and breadth of racial profiling as a problem, we cannot devise effective solutions; accurate data is crucial to all efforts to end racial profiling. Furthermore, as highlighted by former Kingston Police Chief W.J. Closs, data collection has many incidental benefits. Collecting data helps individual police officers develop to a “self-critical” attitude, which will enable them to better identify their own biases [Report, p. 37]. Given the high value of data collection, one can only hope municipal police services in Quebec, and across the country, follow the Commission’s recommendations and start collecting and publishing data on racial profiling.

Moreover, Canadians need to acknowledge that racial profiling affects a great many people in our society on a daily basis. The prevalence of racial profiling is clearly demonstrated throughout this report, and is most succinctly expressed in the report’s preface by a few choice words from a mother in Montreal, who states it is “normal to get pulled over” and she regularly warns her children to avoid the police. This mother’s statements illustrate that racial profiling and, more broadly, discrimination on the basis of race, remain pressing issues for many Canadians.

Finally, it is important for all Canadians to recognize that ending racial profiling requires action be taken beyond the individual level. It is not enough to reprimand individuals after a complaint is filed, instead we must seek to prevent racial profiling before it occurs, and consequently systemic reform is essential.

The true impact of this report remains uncertain; it is unclear whether the Commission’s recommendations will receive due consideration in Quebec and throughout the country, or whether this report will simply gather dust on desks of civil servants. Whether the former or the latter occurs will depend to a large extent on the existence of progressive leadership within our public institutions. One can only hope that this report receives the consideration it deserves and the necessary reform follows; the development of policies, procedures and organizational structures that ensure all Canadians receive equal treatment when interacting with public services would certainly be worthy of praise.

Posted by Ashley Henbrey (Windsor Law II)

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