The Importance of Collecting Race Data: Preventing Racial Profiling and Promoting Inclusive Citizenship

AuthorLorne Foster & Lesley Jacobs
ChAPTeR 10
The Importance of Collecting Race Data
Preventing Racial Prof‌iling and
Promoting Inclusive Citizenship
LornE FostEr & LEsLEy Jacobs*
Over the past two decades, issues of racial prof‌iling as par t of police
practices in Canada have come to the forefront of public attention.
Complaints about racial prof‌iling and racial bias are increasingly being
brought to Canadian courts and human rights tribunals. Allegations of
“driving while Black” have become commonplace. In fact, the problem
is now frequently characterized as a systemic one for Canadian police
services. Indeed, complaints about racial prof‌iling are generally framed
as systemic when they are heard by Canadian cour ts and human rights
tribunals. Often, however, concerns about racial prof‌iling are dismissed
by defenders of the police as anecdotal and an indicator of an occasional
bad apple, and in no sense a part of everyday policing in Canada.
Relations between Canadian police and the members of racialized min-
ority groups have been the object of several of‌f‌icial inquiries over the past
three decades .1 In almost every region of the country, the relations between
police and minority groups have undergone close examination, and much
of this attention has been prompted by police action that resulted in the
* Lorne Foster is a professor of public policy a nd equity studies, as well as co -chair, Race,
Inclusion and Supportive En vironments, York University. Lesley Jacobs is a professor
of law & society and pol itical science, as well as the direc tor of the Institute for Social
Research, York University.
1 For a review, see Scot Wortley, “Police Use of Force in Ontario: A n Examination of
Data from the Specia l Investigations Unit Prelimin ary Report” (2007), a research
project conducted on behal f of the African Canad ian Legal Clinic for submi ssion to the
Ipperwash Inqui ry.
Lorne Foster & Lesley Jacobs
death or serious injury of members of minority groups. With the increas-
ing focus of attention and debate about law enforcement’s relationship
with people of colour and police “use of force doctrine,” accompanied
by hundreds of demonstrations in various jurisdictions, ef‌forts to more
fully understand police-community relations have placed a premium on
systematic collection of statistics and information regarding law enforce-
ment acti vity.
Yet, unlike in, for example, the United States or the United Kingdom,
Canadian police services have no history of collecting racial data about
who they serve or stop or why. Without this data, it is dif‌f‌icult, if not im-
possible, to evaluate seriously the extent, if at all, to which racial prof‌iling
is a systemic problem among Canadian police services. In other human
rights areas, such as employment discrimination and housing discrimin-
ation, Canada has been a pioneer in gathering publicly accessible relevant
data to assess allegations of systemic bias. In this chapter, we argue that
an important step forward to address concerns about racial prof‌iling and
racial bias is to also gather racial data regard ing police practices.
Contemporary police-minority relations are often complicated, chol-
eric, and hard to grasp. The dearth of racial data frustrates rational,
informed debate, and leaves a vacuum to be f‌illed with innuendo, sus-
picion, and repressed hostility. The resulting tension and social inertia
make it hard to stand back from issues and to fashion an encompassing
picture of what is going on. This chapter argues that the complexity of
racial disparities has made data collection a required tool. Systematic and
carefully craf ted race-data collection and analysis can be a major device
for unpacking, addressing, and preventing police-community problems,
while promoting bias-neutral policing and inclusive citizenship. The
chapter concludes with a discussion of seven major uses of data collec-
tion for the purposes of racial equality, anti-racism, and inclusion. These
include: (1) Documenting the extent and nature of ethno-racial dispar ity;
(2) Identifying the causes of ethno-racial disparity; (3) The development
of evidence-based policies and programs; (4) The evaluation of anti-racism
policies and equity strategies; (5) Increased system accountability; (6) In-
creased transparency and perceived system legitimacy ; and (7) Improved
public education and increased knowledge with respect to systemic ra-
cism and its consequences.
The Importance of Collecting Race Data 
Contemporary public policing has been profoundly inf‌luenced by the pace
and nature of social change in the context of globalization.2 A s society has
developed and become more complex in its demographic landscape, the
multicultural reality helped transform the trad itional paramilitar y poli-
cing model, shaping a new professionalism. The role expectations for the
modern police of‌f‌icer demand both a “crime f‌ighter” and a “public ser-
vant,” whose duties are to “protect and serve” multiple publics.3 Blending
the traditional crime control function with modern public service va lues
— such as respect for diversity, democracy, and professional integrity4
requires police agencies to come to grips with the dif‌f‌icult task of main-
taining law and order in increasingly vibrant and mixed communities
who often contest the boundaries of the status quo.5 The magnitude of
this challenge to both protect and serve in a diverse society a re ref‌lected
in the growing frequency of newspaper and media accounts of confron-
tations in multiple jurisdictions over the “use of force” doctrines, “stop
and search” protocols, and racial prof‌iling. Television news programs and
social media campaigns sometimes provide dramatic supporting videos,
graphically depicting the visible tensions between the police and racial-
ized minority communities.
The current rise in the public temperature and debate about police-
minority relations has been amplif‌ied full throttle across the continent
and abroad. Sparked by the unrest in Ferguson and New York, a vigorous
dispute about law enforcement’s relationship with people of African des-
cent and police “use of force doctrine” has gone global. The events sur-
rounding the deaths of Black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri,
and New York’s Eric Garner launched public protests and rallies against
police brutality, highlighted in the United States by the “Hands Up, Don’t
2 Maurice A Martin, Urban Polic ing in Canada: Ana tomy of an Aging Craf t (Montreal: Mc-
Gill-Queen’s Universit y Press, 1995); Graham Ellison & Nat han W Pino, Globalization,
Police Refor m and Development : Doing It the Western Way? (New York: Pal grave Macmil-
lan, 2012).
3 Norm Stamper, To Protect and Ser ve: How to Fix Americ a’s Police (New York: Nation
Books, 20 16).
4 Colin Hicks, “A Case for Public Sector Ethics” (2007) 3: 3 Policy Quarterly 11.
5 Lorne Foster & Lesley Jacobs, “Human R ights Evaluation Report : Windsor Police
Service Huma n Rights Project” (2015) at 57, a report for the Windsor Police S ervice,
online: ww an-rights/Documents/ Final%20REPORT_
Foster_Jacobs%2 0January%2 02016.1.pdf [Wind sor Report].

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