The African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) is unhappy with a settlement reached between the Ottawa Police Services Board and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) which means Ottawa Police Services (OPS) will begin to collect race-based data on traffic stops by OPS officers.
The settlement followed a human rights complaint by Ottawa resident Chad Aiken. In 2005, Aiken, then 18 years old, was pulled over by OPS officers while driving his mother’s Mercedes-Benz. In a complaint against the police, he alleged that he had been stopped because he was African Canadian.
A partial settlement was reached between the parties in the summer of 2010. This most recent settlement focuses on using data collection as a way to help provide bias-free police services.
The OPSB and the OHRC have agreed the data will be used in a way that respects Ontario’s Human Rights Code. The settlement requires the OPS to collect data for a minimum two-year period, starting within 12 months. At the end of two years, the OPS will share the collected information with the OHRC. The OHRC will conduct an analysis on the data and may make recommendations.
In a press release the ACLC said this was not the first time that Aiken was racially profiled by the Ottawa Police. “Racial profiling perpetuates the social and historical disadvantage and stereotypes experienced by African Canadians in Canadian society, and contributes to systemic racism against African Canadians that exists at all levels of the criminal justice system,” explained Virginia Nelder, staff lawyer at the ACLC.
Violation - Donald McLeod, co-counsel for Aiken, indicated that “pretext stops of African Canadians by the police, whether in a car or simply walking on the street, are unwarranted and a violation of basic rights and human dignity protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The ACLC said the OHRC, a party to the proceeding at the Human Rights Tribunal, reached a settlement with the Ottawa Police Service without consensus of the complainant. It said in light of research in this area and in consultation with an expert in racial profiling retained by the ACLC, it is the complainant’s position that the settlement lacks key elements that are of fundamental importance to the African Canadian community in Ottawa, and across the province. Race-based data collection related to police stops is required by law in the U.K. and is common throughout the U.S.
It is recognized as one of the major tools available to help police services address allegations of racial profiling around the world. The OHRC notes that police services in Canada can benefit by using this tool.
“This is another exciting step forward in our work with Ontario’s police services and is truly groundbreaking,” said Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner of the OHRC. “Data collection allows organizations to measure what they do and then manage appropriately. People in every community need to feel confident in their police services.
And collecting data can help police operate with transparency so that they can maintain trust in the communities they serve”. The OHRC recently completed a three-year Charter with the Toronto Police Service and is currently working with the Windsor Police on a similar project.
The OHRC and the Ottawa Police Services Board agreed that data collection will be important in helping to address concerns and perceptions in minority communities. The settlement calls for significant consultation with community partners. However Margaret Parsons, executive director of the ACLC disagrees with the decision.
“This settlement is clear proof that the Ontario Human Rights Commission is not a friend of the African Canadian community, and as a provincial body entrusted with protecting, advancing and defending the human rights of African Canadians the Commission has abandoned this role in favour of chumming up with a police service that is notorious for egregious acts of racial profiling against African Canadians,” she said.