Systemic Racism and the Canadian Police

Posted: October 1, 2011 by krobel2001 in Systemic Racism

Canada has been reputed to be a multicultural nation that supports human rights and freedoms, free from distinction based on race or ethnicity.  This reputation emerged out of parliamentary statutes and legislation to secure and commit to the protection of individual and group rights and freedoms for all Canadian citizens. Historically the passing of the Royal Proclamation in 1763, the passage of the Bill of Rights in1960, and in 1982, under the Trudeau administration, Canada’s rights and freedoms were entrenched in Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing certain civil and cultural liberties to recognized citizens of Canada in sections 15 (1) & (2). The Canadian government went further when, the Multiculturalism Act was tabled in 1985 and enacted in 1988 and provides for equality, rights and freedoms for all males, females, aboriginals, all Canadians by birth or choice, and all ethnic groups.

Upon closer scrutiny and observation of Canada’s history, we find that in the 19th century there were thousands of Klu Klux Klan members located within the Canadian borders in such areas as Vancouver, B.C. and Toronto, Ontario. It was a crime for Chinese restaurant owners to hire white women, and after the bombing of Pearl Harbour thousands of Canadian Japanese were ordered into internment camps all across Canada. Aboriginals have been segregated, mistreated and abused by all government levels and branches, especially Canada’s criminal justice system, and which includes as the power to uphold the law, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police force was created in 1920 by an act of parliament and legislated to enforce the laws and act as peacekeepers for and of the public with integrity and trust. Their commitment to each other, to the group and to the organization is unprecedented due to the nature of the occupation. Despite their reputation there have been numerous examples and incidents reported by the media of differential treatment of minority groups based on race and culture, where the police have misused and abused their powers.  Maurice Punch notes “ that police corruption is viewed in part as abuse of police authority, power and trust and manifests itself in many ways ,two such frequent ways are in discrimination against certain groups, and infringements of the rule of law and due process” (Punch, 2009, p. 31).

Racial profiling is one such act of discrimination engaged in by the RCMP and results in the abuse of power targeted at minorities. The CBC news reported that “some black Canadians have a name for the practice. They say they are frequently pulled over for no other reason than being guilty of “DWB”- driving while black” (In-depth: Racial Profiling, 2005). Further the report went on to say that racial profiling inthe law enforcement context was “defined in a study, published in the Canadian Review of Policing Research, as racial disparity in police stop and search practices, customs searches at airports, in police patrols in minority neighbourhoods and in undercover activities, or sting operations which target particular ethnic groups” (In-depth: Racial Profiling, 2005).

RCMP officers may engage in such deviant acts individually or with group members but can further result in systemic racism. Where racism is systemic in the context of policing is the metaphor presented by Maurice Punch “that the metaphor of rotten orchards indicates that it is sometimes not the apple or even barrel that is rotten but the system, that is deviance that has become systemic is in some way encouraged and perhapsevent protected by certain elements in the system, referring to both to the formal system, of the police organization, the criminal justice system and thebroader socio-political context” (Punch, 2003, p. 172),  and by such actions as cover ups as a means of protecting the actions of police officers.

In conducting a web search, using the Goggle search engine I entered in racial profiling and the Canadian police, approximately 763,000 results came up.  The results showed a definition of racial profiling from Wikipedia- the free encyclopaedia. What was interesting was that this site, contained in the resource section, included a link to the work of Dr. Jeff Shantz, who is a faculty member in the department of criminology atKwantlen Polytechnic University, and who wrote on racial profiling. Wikipedia also included a definition of racial profiling from Canada and from the United States. Other Web site links were to the media, institutions and organizations such as Ontario council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, (OCASI), and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, introductions to books and even a report from the RCMP. Additionally there is a web site where the link was broken and could not be reached.

My impression of the first page of the web search was that it was limited by a lack of links to academic articles and there were few links to critical commentaries about the relationship between racism and police deviance and corruption and to any relationship within the structural hierarchy of the police organization. The report issued from the RCMP was written by Ron Melchers, Ph.D., but the limit of the report was that it was pro-RCMP. Quite obviously any meaning given to this construct of racial profiling would appear to be questionable and possibly biased.  A link to Imdiversity appeared to be a community service that discussed cases of racial discrimination and unfair treatment by the RCMP, .   There were also a number of media sources that reported on cases of racial discrimination and the mistreatment of minority groups perpetrated by the

When I conducted a second web search using the key words systemic racism in Canadian policing, this yielded different results with respects to racism within the structure of the criminal justice system.  Ten results appeared on the first page ranging in dates from 2000-2008. There were links to Canadian government agencies most of which discussed racism in the Canadian court system, and the police structure. The definition under Wikipedia used the
term institutional racism as being interchangeable with systemic racism. Additionally there were links to human resources in Ontario, media reports on racism within the justice system and links to books that discuss systemic discrimination.


Punch, Maurice. (2009). Police Corruption Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Willan Publishing. Devon, UK.

Punch, Maurice. (2003). Rotten Orchards:”Pestilence”, Police Misconduct and System  Failure.  Policing
and Society
, Vol.13 (2). P.171-196.

In-depth: Racial Profiling. Frequently asked questions. (2005, May25). CBC News Online. Main Page.

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    An excellent introductory post on a complicated topic.

    Some food for thought for your future posts:

    First, what can we say about the relationship between systemic racism within Canadian police forces and the existence of systemic racism as a factor in police-public interactions?

    Second, what are the roots of racism and differential treatment in Canadian policing? Various explanations have been offered: the pervasive (if often unrecognized or denied) nature of racism in broader society, the policing subculture and ‘working personality’, problems with police hiring and training practices, and the role of the police as defenders of a status quo that has always rested on inequalities at the levels of class, race, and gender.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s