All citizens of our city deserve the right to be treated with fairness, equality, and dignity by their institutions. Yesterday, the citizens of Ottawa learned something that many of this city’s racialized communities have long known and felt – that fairness, equality, and dignity is not always afforded to Black and Middle Eastern communities by the Ottawa Police Service’s (OPS) discriminatory policing methods.
After two years of study into the traffic stop patterns of the city’s police, we learned that our police force disproportionately targets communities of colour through traffic stop processes. This study – the largest race based data collection in Canadian history – Provides empirical evidence to support the experiences often felt by black and other racialized communities in our city when interacting with the police.
The report showed that the targeting of Middle Eastern and Black communities by our police is truly staggering, specifically, nearly six times more than the general driving population. For young males between the ages of 16-24 in these two racialized communities, the number increases to more than 20 times. The Ottawa Police Service disproportionately use “criminal or suspicious activity” as an excuse to stop Black and Middle Eastern drivers. Yet despite this, there is no indication in the findings that these drivers are actually committing more traffic infractions than White drivers.
The response from OPS leadership has been to deny that there is any racial profiling happening, or simply refer to the findings as “some variances” in the data. This stance is extremely disappointing and shameful. It is not an anomaly for the disproportionately targeted young Black and Middle Eastern males. It is insult to injury for those who bear an unfair economic burden because they are paying a disproportionate amount of the fines issued by police, simply for the colour of their skin.
As alarming as the traffic stops data is, it is only one part of a bigger story which paints a disturbing picture of the way our police force views and interacts with people of colour. The lack of diversity in the ranks and denial of racism from city leadership only adds to the problem. Responding to racism in public institutions is a political decision and it must be addressed head on otherwise it creates space for ugly trends. In the last few months alone, Ottawa has witnessed racism manifest through the killing of the Abdirahman Abdi, and the racist remarks publicly expressed by a senior Ottawa police officer following the death of Annie Pootoogook.
The Justice for Abdirahman Coalition strongly supports the recommendations put forward by the research team at York University through this study and echoes the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane’s statement following the release of the report stating that, “Racial profiling has a negative impact on individuals and their families and undermines the relationship between law enforcement and communities.”
While we are encouraged by efforts to engage the community, meaningful engagement can only start when there is a sincere acknowledgement of a problem. Then and and only then can work be done to combat such a problem. Even a small amount of racism is still racism. We demand Chief Bordeleau and Mayor Jim Watson to come forward and acknowledge that racism is a problem and for the OPS to continue to collect race based data so that progress and improvement can be tracked.