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Kingston police confirm use of racial profiling.


The first study in Canada of racial profiling by a police service has turned up results showing what Aboriginal people have thought all along--police target Native people.

Scot Wortley, a professor with the University of Toronto criminology department, headed up a study done on the Kingston police department. Released in May, the study found that police were 3.7 times more likely to pull over a black person, and 1.4 times more likely to pull over an Aboriginal person, than a member of the white race.

The study is the first of its kind in Canada, and confirms that racial profiling in policing organizations does exist.

The Canadian Review of Policing Research defines racial profiling as: "a racial disparity in police stop and search practices, customs searches at airports and border-crossings, in police patrols in minority neighbourhoods and in undercover activities or sting operations which target particular ethnic groups."

In response to the study, the chief of the Kingston Police apologized for the actions of his officers. The Kingston Police Association, however, challenged the results of the study.

The association concluded that studies of racial profiling are not productive and increase tensions in police/minority relations.

"I find that kind of argument rather ridiculous," said Wortley.

The community should decide if they want studies done on police behaviour, and the community should decide the usefulness of such studies, he said.

The Aboriginal population in Kingston is only about 1,000 people and is not necessarily representative of how widespread the issue of racial profiling is of Native people. Wortley said he would like to do a study in a city that has a large Aboriginal population.

He also commented on the attitudes that racial profiling creates.

"When white offenders engage in crime they are often seen as pathological individuals or deviant individuals and their offending does not reflect the community," said Wortley.

"But when minorities engage in crime people generalize the behaviour of a few people into the entire community and that is the danger of profiling," he said.

Wortley did say something in defence of police officers. He said that because many members of minority groups start with the perception that police are biased against them, when a police officer is authoritarian towards them--what he calls a police officer acting like a police officer--minorities often perceive that as racism.

Wortley said that even if police organizations do not recognize racial profiling exists, criminals do and are changing their behavior as a result. Wortley said that in interviews with black gang members in Toronto, they admitted to hiring white members in order to transport drugs. The rationale being that a black person is more likely to be stopped by police than a white person.

Kimberly Murray is the executive director of Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto (ALST) and deals with the issue of racial profiling of Aboriginal people on a daily basis.

Murray does not like to use the term racial profiling when it comes to Aboriginal people. She prefers to call such police action targeting.

ALST was established in 1990, and was formed by the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The centre had been offering legal-related programs for Aboriginal people in Toronto before ALST was created, but concluded an agency dedicated specifically to legal issues was needed. Its purpose is to strengthen the capacity of the Aboriginal community and its citizens to deal with justice issues and provide Aboriginal-controlled and culturally-based justice alternatives.

Murray said that her clinic is part of the legal aid clinic system in Ontario made up of more than 72 clinics. It is one of two clinics in the province that specializes in legal help for Aboriginal people. It is also only one of about five clinics that deal with legal issues involving the police.

People with police issues who go to clinics that don't deal with policing cases are often turned away, said Murray. The decision not to deal with police issues is a choice made by individual clinics.

Murray said that most of ALST clients are homeless or near-homeless people. Aboriginal people make up 25 per cent of the homeless population in Toronto. However, she said, it is this group that is most often targeted by police.

Murray said that a review of legislation regarding being drunk in a public place provides evidence of racial profiling.

"Police could stand outside of a university pub and ticket just about everyone who walks out of the pub, but they don't. They go to the park and they arrest people there."


Birchbark Writer
COPYRIGHT 2005 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Author:Young, George
Publication:Ontario Birchbark
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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