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Ottawa Police Are Disproportionately Stopping Black and Middle Eastern Drivers

The landmark study did not delve into whether racial profiling was at play.

by Tamara Khandaker
Oct 24 2016, 7:58pm


Photo via Ottawa Police Service Facebook

Black and Middle Eastern drivers are stopped by police at disproportionately high rates for traffic infractions in Ottawa, according to a new study touted as the largest race-based data collection project in Canadian policing history.

While Middle Eastern drivers made up 12.3 percent of 81,902 traffic stops over the two-year period the Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project looked at—June 2013 to June 2015—they represent only four percent of the total driving population in Ottawa. Meanwhile, black drivers made up 8.8 percent of the traffic stops, but represent only four percent of the total driving population.

The study found that with the exception of Indigenous men, men in all other racial groups aged 16 to 24 were stopped at a disproportionately high rate.

Middle Eastern males between the ages of 16 and 24 accounted for 2.8 percent of the total traffic stops, although they make up only 0.25 percent of drivers in Ottawa—this means they were stopped 12 times more than you'd expect based on their population. Black men in the same age group made up about 1.5 percent of the total stops—8.4 times more than they should've been, considering they only make up 0.2 percent of the city's driving population.

The report suggests "criminal offenses"—offences under Canada's Criminal Code, like stolen vehicles and impaired driving—were "disproportionately used" by police as a justification for stopping five of six racialized minority groups when compared to white drivers.

"Suspicious activities"—described by the report as "activities deemed to be dubious by police officers"—was used disproportionately as the reason for a stop for Indigenous, black, South Asian, Middle Eastern, drivers, as well as drivers from "other" racialized minorities.

The study also found that Indigenous, black, Middle Eastern, and "other" racialized minorities saw a disproportionately high rate of "final (no action)" outcomes for traffic stops.

The researchers note that the study doesn't deal "with the issue of causality."

"That is to say, it does not explain why and how these factors are related or not related," says a summary of the report.

"We take this work, the lived experiences of communities, the experiences of our officers, and the report seriously," said Chief Charles Bordeleau in a statement released alongside the report. "I am committed to working with community and our members to better understand the report."

Bordeleau committed to doing a "deeper analysis" to come up with an action plan, aiming for "bias-neutral policing efforts."

Bordeleau stressed that the report didn't conclude racial profiling, but acknowledged that there were "variances and anomalies in the analysis that must be researched further."

Bordeleau said working in areas with high crime and "social disorder" issues—where residents want a visible police presence—"often results in increased traffic stops."

He said demographics of neighbourhoods, as well as the time of the day of stops would also need to be studied to understand how they factored into the report's findings.

The data collection project started in 2013, with officers recording their "perception of driver race" using the computer system built into their cars, as part of a settlement in the case of Chad Aiken, a black man who was 18 when he was pulled over in Ottawa while driving his mother's Mercedes in 2005.

AIken said he'd been stopped for no valid reason, was taunted, and punched in the chest by the officer. He filed a human rights complaint in 2005, alleging that he was a "victim of discrimination, racial profiling, and systemic anti-black racism" within the Ottawa police force, which has seen more high-profile allegations of racism in recent months.

On Sunday, the force charged one of its own officers under the Police Services Act with two counts of discreditable conduct for racist comments he posted on an article about the death of Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook.

In his posts under an Ottawa Citizen article, in the days after Pootoogook's body was found in the Rideau River, Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar suggested that her death wasn't a murder but an accident or a suicide, perhaps the result of alcoholism or drug abuse.

The Special Investigations Units, which probes deaths and serious injury involving police, is currently investigating the death of a Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi, who died following an altercation with Ottawa police. Cops had been called to a nearby coffeeshop, where Abdi had been accused of groping a woman. According to witnesses, pepper sprayed him and repeatedly struck him in the head with fists and batons. The aftermath—Abdi lying bloodied on the ground, as officers stood around him—was caught on camera.

According to a report from the Chief of the Ottawa Police Service, complaints about Ottawa cops spiked by 133 percent in the third quarter of 2016—the same time the two incidents took place.

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