The Commission’s mandate is set out in the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”), the Ontario law that prohibits discrimination and harassment in several areas including employment, housing and services. The purpose of the Code is explained in its Preamble and is, in essence, to achieve a society that provides equal rights and opportunities to all its citizens in which there exists a climate of mutual respect and understanding for the dignity and worth of each person. The Preamble states that this type of society, in turn, allows each person to feel a part of the community and to contribute fully to the development and well-being of the province. Therefore, the Code itself recognizes the importance of equality to the realization of full citizenship and human potential. Conversely, unequal treatment has a social cost which we cannot afford to ignore.
The Commission is often thought of as a body with which to lodge human rights complaints. While this is a key aspect of the Commission’s mandate, it is only one tool available to the Commission to fulfill the aims of the Code. The Commission also has a critical role to play in raising public awareness about human rights issues and engaging in public education aimed at eliminating practices that are contrary to the purpose of the Code. The Commission is specifically empowered to (section 29 of the Code):
- advance human rights policy;
- promote an understanding, acceptance of and compliance with the Code;
- provide public information, education and research aimed at eliminating discrimination;
- review statutes, regulations, programs and policies and make recommendations on any aspect that may be inconsistent with the Code;
- initiate inquiries into problems and encourage and co-ordinate plans, programs and activities to reduce or prevent such problems; and
- encourage public and private organizations to undertake programs to address discrimination.
It is pursuant to this broad mandate that the Commission has undertaken this inquiry.
At the outset, the Commission set out what its inquiry does and does not do.
What the inquiry does:
- responds to community concerns about the impact of profiling;
- looks at the effects of profiling;
- measures the human impact of this practice on individuals, families, communities and society as a whole;
- considers profiling in a number of contexts including housing, services, education and private security;
- takes measures to ensure that participants do not reveal names or other information that could identify specific individuals during any public hearing process; and
- respects the privacy of all individuals.
What the inquiry does not do:
- does not investigate individual allegations of racial profiling;
- does not focus on one type of profiling or target a particular system in society, e.g. police;
- is not about numbers or statistics;
- is not another study and does not set out to prove or disprove the existence of profiling; and
- did not accept anonymous submissions.
The Commission’s objective in undertaking this initiative has been to give those who have experienced profiling a voice to express how it has impacted them and to provide an analysis of how profiling affects more than just those communities most likely to experience it. The Commission hopes to raise public awareness of the harmful effects of profiling and in so doing illustrate the social cost of racial profiling. If we all understand how profiling undermines our social fabric, we are better positioned to take steps to ensure that no one within society engages in it.
The Report, therefore, does not contain a detailed discussion of the types of profiling described by each participant but rather focuses on the impact of the incidents. It should be emphasized, however, that contrary to common perception, racial profiling is not just about traffic stops by the police. It is a phenomenon that is widespread in our society, has many manifestations and can be practiced by virtually any person or any institution. It is also not a problem confined to the city of Toronto. Submissions about profiling were received from around the province and from people of all backgrounds.
The Report respects the confidentiality of the participants and also does not always identify the background of persons quoted. This is because, while certain communities experience certain forms of profiling in varying degrees unique to those communities, the phenomenon of profiling has many universal features. Moreover, some individuals and communities are relatively more empowered to come forward to the Commission to discuss their experiences. Therefore, with the exception of the experience of Aboriginal persons, for the reasons described in that section, the Report is not organized according to impacted communities. It is also worth noting however, that the greatest number of submissions about profiling were received from persons who identified as African Canadian.
The Report begins with a brief explanation and definition of racial profiling. In addition, the Report explains the human cost of racial profiling on the individuals, families and communities that experience it. It details the detrimental impact that profiling is having on societal institutions such as the education system, law enforcement agencies, service providers and so forth. It also outlines the business case against profiling – in essence the economic loss sustained as a result of racial profiling.
At the same time as raising public awareness, it is also the Commission’s desire to bridge the divide between those who deny the existence of racial profiling on the one hand and the communities who have long held that they are targets of racial profiling on the other. It is time to listen to those who have raised their concerns and to commence a constructive dialogue aimed at addressing them regardless of whether you believe that profiling is a reality or a perception.
To this end, the Report stresses the need to listen to the concerns of those who believe profiling to be a problem. It explains why profiling is not a legitimate or even fruitful practice. And it provides recommendations for monitoring whether profiling may be occurring in a particular context, strategies for preventing or for ending the practice where it already exists.
This document will form the basis for future work by the Commission, both in terms of raising public awareness about racial profiling and in the Commission’s larger work on race, which includes as its goal the development of a Commission policy statement on racial discrimination. The Commission’s policy statements provide information about the Commission’s interpretation of specific provisions of the Code. They are important because the public has the right to expect that the Commission will deal with cases in a way that is consistent with its published policies. They also set standards for how individuals, employers, service providers and policy makers should act to ensure equality for all Ontarians.
However, it is clear that raising public awareness and developing policy statements is not enough. Nor can the Commission tackle racial profiling on its own. It is necessary for a number of individuals and organizations in Ontario, those in positions of influence and authority, to commit to tackling the serious concerns that have been raised by tracking the potential adverse impact of certain practices and implementing concrete measures to address these effects. The Commission hopes that these individuals and organizations will read this Report with an open mind and seriously consider the recommendations which are offered. This Report can serve as a useful tool in these organizations’ own efforts to improve race relations.
Finally, it is important for each one of us to examine our own subconscious biases to see if we ourselves have stereotyped people inappropriately. We all have a role to play in combating racial profiling.