Ottawa police pull over higher rate of Middle Eastern and black drivers: report

Distracted Driving
Jeff Lagerquist, CTVNews.ca Writing
Published Monday, October 24, 2016 10:33PM EDT

Ottawa Police are pulling over Middle Eastern and black drivers — especially young men — far more often than other groups relative to their population in the city, according to a report analyzing traffic stops over a two year period.

 

Researchers at York University looked at 81,902 traffic stops between 2013 and 2015 where officers were asked to approximate the driver’s race, sex, and age, as well the reason for the traffic stop and the outcome.

The data revealed that drivers perceived to be Middle Eastern accounted for 12.3 per cent of the stops, about 3.3 times what you would expect based on their proportion of Ottawa’s population. Those thought to be black accounted for 8.8 per cent of the stops, roughly 2.3 times higher than anticipated based on population size.

The disparities were even more pronounced among young men. Middle Eastern males between the ages of 16 to 24 were 12 times more likely to be pulled over. Young black men were 8.3 times more likely to be stopped. With the exception of Indigenous peoples, men aged 16 to 24 of all racial groups saw a disproportionately high volume of traffic stops.

The massive data pool, which is the first of its kind in Canada, was collected in response to a human rights complaint against the Ottawa Police stemming from a 2005 traffic stop. However, the researchers behind the study say the findings should not be seen as proof of racial profiling within the force’s ranks.

Officers reported perceiving the race of the driver before deciding to pull the vehicle over in only 11.4 per cent of the stops — a fact that could partially mitigate the chance of perceived racial bias.

Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau says he isn’t troubled by the outsized representation of Middle Eastern and black drivers in the study.

“They (the authors) concluded that the numbers are not racial profiling,” he told CTV Ottawa. “The numbers are higher, and we have to work with the community to better understand why those numbers are what they are.”

The Ontario Human Rights Commission disagrees, saying the findings challenge all law enforcement organizations to acknowledge “the systemic nature of racial profiling.”

However, the province’s human rights watchdog praised the Ottawa Police Service’s willingness to investigate racial profiling on such a large scale, in a statement released Monday.

“There are some serious concerns given the disproportionate number of individuals who have been stopped,” said Ihsaan Gardee, the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

He says racial profiling is “a phenomenon we know exists,” but questions the extent to which it impacted the results of the study.

The findings also revealed that some of the most serious reasons for the traffic stops skewed significantly towards racialized minorities.

“Criminal offences” was disproportionately cited among five of the six non-white groups studied. Data on Indigenous peoples was inconclusive because the number of stops citing “criminal offenses” was too low. “Suspicious activities” was also an inordinately common justification for pulling over members of minority groups.

The outcomes of the traffics stops — charges versus warnings — did not seem to have an obvious racial bias. Middle Eastern, black, and indigenous peoples actually saw more “no action” outcomes from their brushes with the Ottawa cops.

A report submitted by Chief Bordeleau to the Ottawa Police Services Board says community and police engagement like the York University Study will be used over the next six months to create a multi-year action plan.

With a report from CTV Ottawa’s Matt Skube

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