Systemic Racism in Canadian Policing

Posted: October 12, 2011 by rtatla in Systemic Racism

Systemic Racism in Canadian Policing

Systemic racism, although vehemently denied by various public figures, such as Police Chiefs and even government officials, has become an increasingly notorious issue within the context of police deviance in Canadian policing. The issue comprises of the mistreatment and discrimination of individuals simply based on their skin colour, race, or ethnic background, with those of African descent seeming to be of main focus.

Visible minorities are more likely to be arbitrarily pulled over, stopped and questioned while merely walking down the street, or detained, just to name a few examples of this type of discrimination. For example, in an article written by Wortley & Tanner (2003), focusing on the Toronto Police Services response to the Toronto Star’s series on race and crime, it is noted that black offenders are often treated more harshly after arrest, are more likely to be detained and taken down to the station, and are also more likely to be held in custody for bail hearings; just to name a few.  Blacks alone are often over represented in many charge categories and come into contact with police officers far more frequently than those individuals of a Caucasian background, and are likely to continue to come into contact with officers based entirely on their skin colour – regardless of age and social class (Wortley & Tanner 2003)

Individuals of ethnic minority communities are being forced to face the challenges of systemic racism on a day to day basis through objectionable cultural biases, ignorance, insensitivity and racist stereotyping imposed on them by their local police. And yet, the issue of systemic racism seems to yield various opinions amongst our society, with some in complete disagreement of it even being an existing or serious issue. I quote Toronto’s Police Chief, Chief Fantino “we do not do racial profiling… There is no racism… We don’t look at, nor do we consider race or ethnicity, or any of that, as factors of how we dispose of cases…” (Wortley & Tanner 2003).

Entering this topic into a public online search engine as “systemic racism in Canadian policing”, more specifically, in Google, yielded high search results (1, 940, 000 to be exact). Of these results, none were government websites, a couple of sites lead to purchasable books based on the Canadian justice system and racism, and several sites which discussed institutional racism in various different organizations  as opposed to just policing. Wikipedia defines institutional racism as “…racial bigotry by the existence of institutional systemic policies, practices and economic and political structures which place non-white racial and ethnic groups at a disadvantage in relation to an institution’s white members”.  I found some of the results to be very useful, well referenced, and simple to understand whereas others were not much use at all as they were too broad and focused on racism in Canada as a whole, and not specifically on the policing aspect. On the other hand, what I found to be the most interesting were a couple of sites that discussed racism in policing and were based out of Ontario – one in specific which was from The Toronto Star which ran a series of articles on race and crime –articles that were seen to be quite controversial.

To narrow down my search to focus more on racism in policing only, I typed in “racism + Canadian policing” into Google which yielded around six million results with the first link leading to an article in the Toronto Star titled “Police racism alleged”. The top results were mainly various foundations within Canada which focus on racism and racial profiling, while latter results were more newspaper articles and the last of these results, an article on police brutality by Wikipedia.

From a bit of background reading and from other courses, I have found that systemic racism in policing is an enormous issue in Ontario and more specifically in Toronto, concerning the TPS. The Toronto Star had published a series of articles based around race and crime in October of 2002 that initiated a vast response from various sources, the most attention grabbing source being the TPS and the comments made by their Chief, as noted above, which I will discuss in a future blog.

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    Good post!

    Questions for you:

    What factors give rise to racial / ethnic bias in policing? Is this a ‘nature’ problem or a ‘nurture’ problem?

    You observe that many web search results deal with racism as a whole. How is systemic racism in Canadian policing related to institutionalized racism as a broad phenomenon?

    Are there successful strategies for reform?

    Be sure to check out the posts on Starlight tours, the war on drugs, the Arar case, and Ipperwash. Your topic cuts across these topics.

  2. dhaliwal23 says:

    Racial or ethnic bias that the police use is intentional, so it could be said that it is a combination of ‘nature’ and ‘nuture’ in that they have learned from experience that even though the deviance element in a minority community is small they can raise their rate of success in nabbing the criminals by targeting the minority community as a whole. I learned this from one of my impericial research courses at UFV in criminal psyc where the cops were targeting Africian-American drivers lot more than any other community. The researchers digging further found out from the cops that they do this deliberately because it improves their chances of catching criminals being targeted in that community.

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