Racial profiling - a problem that can only be solved by the people themselves
Commentary by PHILIP FERNANDEZ*
Racial profiling is the official policy of the racist Canadian state, including its police and courts. It is used as a means to split the movement of the Canadian people who are building their political unity as they fight for the rights of all, in the face of the most brutal anti-social offensive of the rich and their governments at all levels. This offensive is wrecking the society and forcing everyone especially the most vulnerable, to fend for themselves. Such a society has no future.
One of the chief instruments of racial profiling in Canada is the police. For the longest time in Toronto, in the face of the experience of the black and other national minority communities, the police denied racial profiling existed. Then in October 2002, the Toronto Star ran a series of articles well-documented through statistics and anecdotal evidence that confirmed something many Torontonians had long suspected - that the Toronto police engages in racial profiling of the black community and other national minorities in the city.
The Star used Freedom of Information provisions to access and review the Toronto Police Services' Criminal Information Processing System (CIPS) going back to 1996, which contained over 480,000 incidents of arrests or ticketing and about 800,000 cases of criminal or other charges.
The Star review found that in cases of "simple drug possession" the police statistics showed that black people arrested were released at the scene of their arrest 61.8 per cent of the time while whites were released 76.5 per cent of the time. The Star also found that blacks (15.5 per cent) were twice as likely as whites (7.3 per cent) to be held in custody overnight pending a bail hearing. The Star also found that blacks were disproportionately charged for offences that were discovered after a traffic stop - so-called "out-of-sight offences" including failing to update the address on the license. It further established that men between the ages of 25 and 34 received 39.3 per cent of "out-of-sight" tickets for their age group, despite making up only 7.9 per cent of the population of that age group in Toronto.
The black community in particular, and Torontonians as a whole, appreciated the public acknowledgment of police racial profiling, indisputably showing that it was a serious problem in the city. It generated the understanding that now that the problem has been brought to the light of day, action would be taken to stop this criminal activity.
Instead, the Toronto Police Services, the Toronto Police Association, the then Toronto Police Chief, Julian Fantino, as well as the Toronto Police Services Board - a seven-member appointed body which is mandated to protect the public interest - all responded with an emphatic denial that the police were engaged in racial profiling.
The Toronto Police Services Board organized a series of public consultations to hear deputations from the public at this important issue. In the first of such meetings in February 2003, the first speakers were two academic "experts" who pronounced that the Toronto Star articles on police racial profiling constituted "junk science." The meeting was stacked by "friends of the police" all of whom said, in effect, that the police "were doing a great job." Those who were critical of the police and their refusal to deal with racial profiling were denounced at various times by members of the Toronto Police Services Board.
For example, the representative of the People's Front in Toronto put forward a proposal that the Toronto Police Services Board needs to be a democratically-elected body whose members are selected and then elected by the people of Toronto from among their peers whose job it would be to enforce the mandate for the police services that was discussed and endorsed by Torontonians. It was pointed out that this was essential to end police impunity and ensure accountability of the police services - a means to end racial profiling and other crimes being committed by the police.
Subsequently, a coalition of Black organizations demanded a meeting with the Police Services Board, which was convened. At that meeting, after the delegation had spoken, and once again demanded that racial profiling and other crimes being committed against the black community by the police be stopped, the entire Board got up and quietly walked out. This from a group of people who are supposed to be accountable to the public!
Toronto Police Services Board and the myth of "a few bad apples?"
Shortly after the Star articles appeared, the Toronto Police Services Board created a joint working group comprised of members of the Toronto Police Services and the Toronto Police Services Board - to look into the allegations of racial profiling by the police. It put out its own interim report in November 2003 once again asserting that if racial profiling existed, it was a matter of "a few bad apples." The report reviewed some 13 previous reports and studies done over some 27 years which documented the discrimination, abuse and racial profiling visited upon the Black community and other national minority communities in Toronto by the police. It concluded that 96 per cent of the recommendations made in these reports have been implemented. Yet we are still left with the question: So why does police racial profiling continue to exist?
Is it a matter of "a few bad apples" as the Toronto Police Services Board and the Chief of Police suggest? It is not.
Racial profiling is nurtured and sustained by the deeper and underling reality that the Canadian state is constituted on a racist basis. It divides the citizenry on racist criteria in order to facilitate their exploitation; this division is aimed at preventing unity as the foundation upon which to construct solutions for their common problems. Historically, every attack upon the Canadian people has come from the state, whether we talk of the institution of slavery against the Black people; the racist attacks against the Chinese after the building of the Canadian Pacific railroad in the form of the head tax; the displacement of the Japanese people during the Second World War; or the racial profiling and attacks against Arabs and Muslims in the name of the so-called "war on terrorism." Once this is understood the role of the police and judiciary become clear: they exist to "uphold the law" for the racist state, and therefore are racist themselves. Thus, it is not a matter of "a few bad apples."
The Toronto experience shows that what is needed to end racial profiling by the police is for the citizens to find mechanisms to ensure police accountability. The principle that the people must set the rules, not the police, and hold the police to account is crucial if the police are not to be a law unto themselves. Police are not like any other ordinary citizens. They are trained in the use of and legally granted the right to use deadly force in carrying out of their duties. They have the power to trample on people's rights. In the face of this reality, to give the police the right to decide the rules and monitor their own behaviour is dangerous. Justice cannot be served in this context. It is noteworthy that the 2002 Toronto City Audit of the Police Services Complaints process found "discipline imposed against police officers are not being monitored." Is it a surprise that police act with impunity?
The Harper agenda
The election of the Harper government in January 2006 created conditions for racial profiling to be carried out more broadly. One of the five main planks in the Conservative platform was to create "safe communities" by being tough on "crime" and "gun violence," that is to implement a "law and order" agenda to solve social and political problems created by Canadian society.
This disinformation was aimed that blaming black youth, the black community and other national minority groups as the cause of "crime," "unsafe communities," "gun-violence" and so on. Similarly, the Harper government's strong endorsement of the US-led "war on terror" has also seen broad scale racial profilng of Muslims. Hardly a day goes by when some Canadian or resident of Muslim faith or Arab background is not "visited" by the police and questioned and called upon to spy on others by the RCMP or Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The Jamestown operation
On 18 May 2006, over 600 police officers from Toronto, Montreal and agents from the United States carried out a well-planned early morning paramilitary operation in Jamestown in the north-west part of Toronto - a working class community made up of residents originally from the Caribbean, East Africa and South Asia. This was racial profiling and state-terror on a large scale which resulted in the arrest of over 100 "gang-leaders and their associates" who were suspected of being involved in "narcotics and gun-smuggling" between the U.S. and Canada. In the end, it was found that the vast majority of those arrested were innocent and had to be let go. The whole operation was organized as a practice for similar such attacks on the Canadian people in the future.
What conclusions are to be drawn from this and other similar experiences?
One conclusion is that the Canadian state as it is currently constituted serves the self-serving narrow interests of a tiny minority of rich who exploit and oppress the vast majority of Canadians as well as other peoples such as in Haiti and Afghanistan. Such a state is wrecking the society and cannot be the source of the solution to the problems that people are facing, be it racial profiling or anything else.
It is necessary for all those who are oppressed, all those who face the violence of the state, all those who are victims of racial profiling and persecution to become politically organized to defend their own interests within the context of fighting for the interests of the society as whole. Canada needs an anti-war government which outlaws the use of force as a means to settle conflicts between nations and peoples and changes the direction of the economy so that the economic, social and cultural rights of the people are provided with a guarantee.
The black community, the Arab and Muslim communities, the South Asians and others, as members of the working class and people of Canada should put themselves in the forefront of the movement to create such a government.
Such a government would take as its starting point the recognition that all nations and peoples have rights and that these rights have to be guaranteed so that everyone can enjoy the right to safety, security and prosperity.
Appendix. Toronto Police Racial Profling
Charts from the Toronto Star series
*Philip Fernandez is Toronto spokesperson of the People's Front, and the candidate for the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada in Toronto-Centre.
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