What the heck is race-based data and how is it being used in Ottawa?
There is no question that the interactions between racialized groups and law enforcement are unacceptable. We’ve all heard about police violence in the U.S., but we’d be naïve to think it’s not happening in Canada too.
Systems of oppression have many tools to keep racialized folks subordinate. A particularly insidious one is the act of not asking the right questions.
Let me give you an example. Using race-based data, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto found that 41% of children in care were African Canadians, though they are only 8% of the GTA’s population. What does this do? It forced the Society to ask explicit questions about race and how certain marginalized groups are being served. The statistics that came out of the data the CAS collected led to changes in in their policies on how to serve African Canadian families.
Race-based data forces people to accept that there is no such thing as “neutrality”, just certain naturalized ideas we take for granted, created by a system that doesn’t like to admit that racist regimes continue to exist in our country (for more on this “white fragility, see Ashley Marshalls excellent piece “White Fragility: Shattering the Language of Unproductive Comfort”).
Race-based data is useful, ultimately, in asking how authorities perceive racialized groups and forcing them to address these perceptions.
That’s just what the Ottawa Police is hoping race-based data will do for the city’s police officers.
In 2012, the Ottawa Police Services Board signed an agreement with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to undertake the “largest race-based data collection project in Canadian policing history”.
Police officers who are conducting traffic stops are required to record their perception of the driver’s races for two years. The results are expected to be released this fall.
Perhaps the most important of this project, is the Community and Police Action Committee (COMPAC), which works with police to ensure racialized and Aboriginal communities in Ottawa are being treated fairly.
Ketcia Peters represents the Haitian community on the Committee and a big supporter of collecting race-based data.
“From a community perspective it opens the line of communication within the Police Service force and pushes its member to reflect on their biases when they are doing their job,” said Peters.
The collection of race-based data is a necessary step forward for all law enforcement services to be accountable to their communities and can be useful to many other institutions.
We don’t like the fact that racism exists in Canada.
People in power would rather not ask certain questions, either for the express purpose of avoiding getting uncomfortable answers, or simply because the idea that race may play a factor in their decision-making doesn’t even cross their minds.
Talking about racism, race, power, and oppression is uncomfortable, but that’s where society needs to be. We must inhabit that discomfort. Feel it, understand it, and learn from it. To remain comfortable is to be complicit.