I am Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, with the University of Toronto, as we have established.
I'd like to thank the committee, as well, for the opportunity to speak before you today, and Dr. Schiffer for his comments.
In addition to my own research on issues of race and policing, I've worked in operational police policy and, indirectly and directly, with police agencies on matters relating to race, racism and questions of equity. I have interviewed and surveyed members of the general public on their perceptions of and experiences with racism in policing, and conducted similar interviews and research with populations most subject to police attention. I have also spent a considerable amount of time conducting research with and working with racialized officers on the issues they face in the policing world. My comments today reflect not only my academic research but also these professional and practical experiences.
I think it's important in the context of the discussion we're having today to talk about some definitional issues. We're talking about systemic racism here. I think it's wise to think about differences among structural, systemic and institutional racism, each of which is relevant in the Canadian context.
From my perspective, when I'm thinking about issues of systemic racism in policing, I think more about structural racism, which describes a system in which policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work in varied and often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial inequality. The key part here is that structural racism acknowledges the role that our history and culture have played in creating a social system that privileges whiteness over non-whiteness. Rather than looking at individual institutional practices, structural racism understands racism as being embedded in the fabric of our social, economic and political systems.
Institutional racism refers to institutional policies and practices that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that constantly favour or disadvantage certain groups over others.
We see structural racism play out in policing when we consider why certain racial groups come into contact with the police more frequently than others, just by virtue of who they are and where they live. Racism in various sectors of our society influences the nature of police work, of course. Most members of our society would expect a heightened police presence in areas where crime is higher. If black and indigenous people suffer racial discrimination in the employment and education sectors, thus increasing levels of poverty and the likelihood that they live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods with higher levels of crime and violence, it follows that these people will have greater exposure to the police, and by extension, police stop and search practices, arrest, use of force, etc.
We see structural racism, for example, play out when we look at arrests for minor drug offences. Evidence from Canada and other jurisdictions suggests that members of different racial groups use drugs at relatively similar rates, yet we see stark racial differences in drug possession arrests. While some of these differences can likely be attributed to officer behaviour and institutional policies and practices, the heightened police presence in the lives of black and indigenous people also plays an important role. So much remedy here lies outside the realm of policing.
It's my belief that the government should follow the call of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to first decriminalize, and then later legalize and regulate other substances. This would take away the need for the police to address these minor issues.
From my perspective, an example of institutional racism in policing would include the privileging of enforcement-oriented forms of policing over community policing efforts in performance reviews and consideration for promotion. If officers are evaluated on the number of arrests they make, rather than on the extent to which they build strong ties with communities, then officers will be inclined to make arrests, warranted or not, rather than engaging in other activities that may serve to engender public safety. Efforts to increase arrests are likely to involve going after low-hanging fruit, often minor infractions in higher-crime neighbourhoods. Again, racial differences in housing patterns and the greater presence of certain racial groups among those experiencing poverty, combined with the presence of racial stereotypes in our society, will converge to produce racially disparate outcomes.
Now of course there is overlap between structural-systemic racism and institutional racism, and I have no doubt that in the two or three minutes I have been speaking, I've confused some of you. I'm happy to follow up later.
I think it's important to acknowledge that a significant proportion of Canadians believe that racism is a feature of Canadian policing. My colleague Scot Wortley and I have just finished the third in a series of studies examining racial differences in perceptions of the police in the greater Toronto area. We find that between 60% and 80% of black, white and Asian people in the greater Toronto area feel there is discrimination in policing. I know that similar studies have been conducted across the country with similar, although perhaps not quite as extreme, results.
My own work demonstrates that these negative perceptions stem from both personal and vicarious experiences. My own work demonstrates that black people, more than white people, felt they had been mistreated by the police during their last encounter, that the police were disrespectful and that their interactions lacked what we would call procedural justice.
We have evidence on differences in terms of treatment after the stops as well. Research conducted recently by my colleague Kanika Samuels-Wortley from Carleton University shows differences in police discretion, and in particular, the extent to which young racialized people are offered diversion programs. We note that diversion is offered to white youth to a greater extent than it is to black and to indigenous youth.
I won't go into police use of force in great depth, because that has been covered, but we know, similar to the indigenous situation, that, for example in Toronto, black people are not only much more likely to be the recipients of police use of force, but they're also subject to greater force. For example, in shootings, there are many more shots fired by the police than when the individual is white and the threshold for using that force is lower.
I would suggest, or I'd argue, that we need a national database that captures police use of force incidents. We do not know the full extent to which the police are using force at the moment, because this data is not systematically collected by our policing agencies, and thus not made available to the government, to policy-makers and to researchers like me.
It's important that we look at the experiences of racialized officers themselves. Many police services across the country have made great efforts to increase the diversity of their workforce, and I mean diversity in terms of what all their officers look like, but unfortunately, my own research tells me that racialized officers do not feel that they are taken into the police subculture and brought into the police brotherhood. I use the term “brotherhood” there purposely. They're overlooked for task and area assignments, and too often passed over for promotion.
A full examination of the extent to which individual, institutional, and systemic or structural racism impacts upon Canadian policing is not possible without access to racially desegregated police data. This data must extend beyond key indicators, such as stops and searches, and arrests, to include information about the outcome of police activity.
We need information about hit rates from stops, and the number of charges that are dropped by the Crown. We need information on the experiences of racialized officers. I commend the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Statistics Canada for announcing that they will be collecting race-based policing data, but that must be comprehensive data. If it is just cursory data, the data collected will very easily be used to further stigmatize already stigmatized groups and could lead to the creation of further marginalizing policies.