Racial profiling complaint comes to end
Rights tribunal says 2010 and 2012 settlement agreements will stand
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has closed the book on a complaint involving an alleged incident of racial profiling by Ottawa police, dismissing objections from Chad Aiken, the man who filed the complaint eight years ago.
In a decision dated May 24 but distributed to the parties only this week, Leslie Reaume, the tribunal’s vicechair, upheld a request by the Ottawa Police Services Board to end the case on the basis of two settlement agreements reached in 2010 and 2012.
Aiken — who was driving his mother’s Mercedes-Benz in 2005 when he was pulled over and roughed up by Ottawa police, allegedly because he is black — had argued that the 2012 settlement, in which Ottawa police agreed to collect racial data during traffic stops for two years, is too limited to be effective.
He wanted the tribunal to incorporate recommendations made in a 2011 report by Scot Wortley, a University of Toronto criminologist who had been retained as an expert witness on the collection of racial data by police.
Wortley’s report has never been made public, but Reaume summarized its key recommendations in her decision. One was that Ottawa police should establish a permanent data collection system to record information on both traffic and pedestrian stops.
The 2012 settlement between Ottawa police and the Ontario Human Rights Commission only requires police to collect racial data from traffic stops. Ottawa police announced last week that will begin June 27.
Virginia Nelder, a lawyer with the African Canadian Legal Clinic who represents Aiken, said the need to include pedestrian stops is “very fully discussed” in Wortley’s report.
“That’s our main concern,” she said. “If you limit the project to traffic stops, you’re missing out on all of the young African Canadian men that are stopped on a daily basis just walking along the street.”
Under the terms of the 2012 settlement, Ottawa police are required to collect racial data for at least two years. That’s problematic as well, Nelder said.
During time-limited studies, Wortley’s report says police typically may change their normal activities to avoid allegations of racial bias, then return to normal activities when the study ends, she said.
Wortley’s report also recommended that police managers should use “internal benchmarking techniques” to identify and correct, through retraining and discipline, officers who might be engaged in racially biased stop-andsearch practices.
But the 2012 agreement explicitly rules that out, saying the police service’s board “will not rely on the racebased data it collects for the purpose of discipline or performance evaluation of its officers.”
Wortley also recommended supplementing the collection of official police data with periodic surveys of the general public to collect and compare information on self-reported contacts with police.
As well, police should be surveyed to collect data on officer morale and job satisfaction, as well as on attitudes toward anti-racism programs or policies. All results should be released to the public on an annual or biannual basis, Wortley’s report says.
None of those recommendations appears in the 2012 settlement. And in her May 24 decision, Reaume was unwilling to amend the settlement agreement to include them.
Aiken’s complaint “created an opportunity for dialogue, reflection and real change,” Reaume said, and it was the human rights commission’s role to ensure that the data collection project “serves the broader public interest.”
Reaume said there was “no reasonable prospect” that she would impose Wortley’s recommendation that Ottawa police should use internal benchmarking for the purposes of discipline.
Nelder said Aiken’s concern goes far beyond the 2005 incident. “This is not the first time nor the last time that my client, unfortunately, has been racially profiled by the Ottawa police. It happens regularly to him and to his friends,” she said. “So it’s less about the incident that happened to my client and more about the systemic issue that he feels very strongly about and wants to address.”