Discrimination or Good Policing? The Racial Profiling Debate in Canada

For decades, Black people in major Canadian cities, including Toronto, Montréal and Halifax, have complained that they are frequently stopped, questioned and searched by the police for “DWBBs —Driving While Being Black Violations” (Foster 1996, 5). Similar complaints have been made by Aboriginals in the Prairie Provinces and by South Asians in British Columbia. Not surprisingly, law enforcement officials have universally rejected such claims. This controversy reached a boiling point in October 2002, when the Toronto Star published a series of articles on the issue of race and crime. In addition to reviewing previous research, the Star provided its own analysis of police arrest data. The study revealed that Black people in Toronto are highly over-represented in certain offence categories, including drug possession and “out-of-sight” traffic violations (driving without a licence or driving without insurance, for example). The Star maintains that this pattern of over-representation is consistent with the idea that the Toronto police engage in racial profiling. Their analysis also reveals that Blacks are treated more harshly after arrest than their White counterparts. In particular, White offenders are more likely to be released at the scene, while Black offenders are more likely to be detained, taken to the station for processing, and held in custody until their bail hearing (Rankin et al. 2002a, 2002b).

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