Throughout much of the world, Canada is hailed as a democratic country which respects human rights and promotes tolerance. This country has consistently ranked as one of the finest in the world in terms of its living standards. As great as everything may seem, Canada is not perfect and it has its own problems -- like every other country.
For well over a decade allegations that Canadian police engage in racially discriminatory practices, such as racial profiling, have swirled. The supposed primary benefit associated with racial profiling is that it is an "efficient" way to address crime. Whether it's "driving while black" or "flying while brown," racial profiling helps law enforcement spot the criminals and terrorists faster and with greater accuracy -- at least theoretically.
Although presently there is no black or white answer to the question over the effectiveness of racial profiling, the vast majority of experts believe that it is actually an ineffective practice. Aside to being innately over-inclusive in nature, some have pointed out that racial profiling may create a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby excessive monitoring of a particular group may create the impression that they are more prone to criminal behaviour. How surveillance is conducted, then, taints the lens by which we view the data. If the lens is polluted with prejudice and stereotypes, the results may turn out that way, too.
A major reason against the effectiveness of racial profiling is that a person's race or ethnicity has never been a good, or even adequate, predictor of behaviour. There is no simple way to identify a thief, drug dealer, or even terrorist. They are present from all backgrounds, religions, races, and political ideologies. They come in all shapes, sizes and forms.
Scot Wortley and Julian Tanner, criminology and sociology professors at the University of Toronto, respectively, have found patterns consistent with the existence of racial profiling in Toronto, Canada. Although Canadian police do not collect data based on the race of the people they detain or search, an analysis based on Toronto Polices Service's Criminal Information Processing System (CIPS) showed that black Torontonians were over-represented in many charge categories. Based on Wortley and Tanner's breakdown of the statistics released, blacks were four times over-represented in out-of-sight driving charges, three times for drug possession, and 1.5 times for prostitution throughout all divisions of the city. In fact, the only offence category they were not over-represented in was impaired driving.
Discriminatory practices, like racial profiling, are one of the many reasons as to why segments of the minority population do not view law enforcement positively. Where a sense of alienation exists in any community, direct barriers to multiculturalism and democracy are posed. Now, assuming that racial profiling does in fact provide policing some benefits to our security (although contrary to what is widely believed by experts), we must ask ourselves: is it worth alienating segments of our population in return for some minor security gains? Do the advancements in this type of policing truly outweigh their social repercussions? And most importantly, is it right to practice public policy in a manner that is directly contrary to the morals and principles we claim to champion?
If indeed racial profiling exists in Canada, it would be in direct violation of at least a few sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For example, section 9 of the Charter protects individuals from arbitrary detention: any detention of an individual based on stereotypical or unjustified reasons is, hence, deemed in violation of this section. Section 7 (the right to life, liberty and security) as well as section 8 (securing individuals from unreasonable search and seizures) will also be infringed upon. In some cases, section 9's violation would also result in section 7 and 8 to be broken because of their respective proximities to section 9. Furthermore, sections 15 of the Charter ensures equality in the application of the law and the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of race or ethnicity. Any form of unequal treatment would be in violation of this section. Racial profiling may also be in violation of other sections as well, such as the right to an informed and lawful detention, along with the right to retain counsel (section 10) and to be presumed innocent (sections 11 (d)).
One thing is clear: racial profiling is merely an illusory solution to the complicated problem of crime reduction.
One of the ways we can fight racial profiling is through the collection of race data, as advocated by Professor Wortley. The collection and dissemination of race-based statistics is essential to the examination and elimination of any racial disparities that may exist. By remaining uncommitted to this initiative, Canadian law enforcement has essentially shrugged its shoulders to the troubles many visible minority Canadians face. Some even refer to this as a sign of democratic racism. It may be wise for Canada to follow in the footsteps of countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, which have been collecting race data for many years now.
Nevertheless, we must remember that crime cannot be combated through a one dimensional approach. There no single, magic solution to crime. It will never be eradicated fully. Through various mechanisms, such as social policy and legal reform, it may be sensibly addressed, however. The prevention of crime should not only be limited to the strategies and tactics of law enforcement agencies.
Take for instance the over-policing of a "high crime" neighbourhood. Over-policing alone will not be successful policy in the long-term, as it does not address the very core of the problem: why is crime higher in this particular location than others? Factors such as a poverty, unemployment, communal alienation and poor public policy will almost always be the true culprit -- not religion, culture or race. Rather than focusing on the failures of the individual, we as a society need to dedicate resources to expand investments in the education and employment opportunities for these communities.
Regardless of the path we take, one thing is clear: racial profiling is merely an illusory solution to the complicated problem of crime reduction. It has no place in Canadian society.
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