Racial profiling concerns raised after ‘DNA sweep’ targeting Middle Eastern men alleged in B.C.

Of note:

Civil liberties watchdogs say they’re troubled by a recent media report that suggested homicide investigators in B.C. targeted numerous Middle Eastern men in a voluntary DNA collection “sweep” as part of their investigation into the killing of a teenager.

The use of a DNA dragnet, they say, raises immediate concerns about racial profiling, coercion and the targeting of vulnerable populations, as well as questions about what’s done with DNA samples after they’ve been collected.

“If you’re trying to build trust in communities to further your investigation, make this something people will find credible,” said Micheal Vonn, policy director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The body of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen was found in a wooded area of Central Park in Burnaby, B.C., in July 2017, prompting a massive investigation that at its peak eclipsed 300 investigators.

Two months ago, the region’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) announced that a suspect, Ibrahim Ali, 28, had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Ali, a permanent resident of Canada, had arrived in the country in March 2017 as a privately sponsored refugee from Syria.

Police would not say how they homed in on Ali. During their 14-month investigation, they canvassed more than 1,300 residents, conducted 600 interviews and identified and eliminated 2,000 “persons of interest.”  The killing was said to have been a random act.

This week, the Burnaby Now newspaper reported that prior to Ali’s arrest, police had approached numerous Middle Eastern men across the region — including those who escaped “persecution in totalitarian regimes” — asking them if they would voluntarily provide samples of their DNA.

One of those men, Ayub Faek, fled Iraq as a refugee and came to Canada in the early 2000s. He said homicide investigators called him out of the blue and asked if they could come talk to him.

“When they came, I asked them, ‘Why me?’ and they say, ‘Not only you; many people,’” Faek told the newspaper. “I said, ‘Do you have clue like about why, for example, me?’ Maybe they have clue. They didn’t tell me. They didn’t tell me anything.”

Faek said he was asked about his work and visits to the park and was shown Shen’s picture. He agreed to provide a sample of his blood from his finger. “You don’t want to do that … but you have to say yes,” he said.

The Burnaby Now also spoke with Ariyan Fadhil, another Burnaby resident who fled Iraq in the early 2000s. He said he was questioned in a van during his lunch break and agreed to give a DNA sample.

“I knew that, if they want, they’re going to get an order from court or something, I don’t know, to take it from me, so that’s why I gave it,” he said.

Both men told the paper they were skeptical about the assurances they got that their DNA samples would be destroyed after the investigation was complete.

Cpl. Frank Jang, a spokesman for IHIT, said in an email Wednesday that it would be improper to comment while the case is before the courts.

“What I can tell you is that IHIT strictly adheres to Canadian law and RCMP policy with respect to the handling of DNA exhibits.”

The RCMP’s website states that DNA profiles must be removed from a database in a “timely manner” if the donor asks for its removal or if it is no longer useful in the investigation for which it was obtained.

But Vonn said police agencies should take the extra step of providing written verification to people that samples have been destroyed.

“You should be able to take that to the bank,” she said.

As for the act of collecting DNA samples in the first place, Vonn said while it is described as voluntary, there’s still an inevitable “element of coercion” involved because if you don’t agree to give a sample, that could make you a target of suspicion.

“No doubt police are very alive to how delicate a balance this is,” she said. “In other cases, we’ve heard in media reports people say the officer made it clear, ‘You don’t do this. We’ll put you under a microscope.’”

The use of DNA sweeps has come under scrutiny in the past. In 2016, in response to a complaint, Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director examined the use of the technique by Ontario Provincial Police detectives investigating a sexual assault in Bayham, a rural municipality in southwestern Ontario.

While police succeeded in finding the culprit — a migrant worker from Trinidad — the review found that the DNA canvass carried out by police had been “overly broad.”

DNA was obtained from virtually “every local migrant worker of colour,” regardless of physical characteristics, the review found.

The scope of the DNA sweep “could reasonably be expected to have an impact on the migrant workers’ sense of vulnerability, lack of security and fairness. It could also send the wrong message to others in the local community about how migrant workers, as a group, should be regarded,” the review found.

And while DNA samples of those individuals cleared in the investigation were destroyed, the OPP “took no steps” to notify migrant workers this had taken place.

Dozens of migrant workers from that case have since filed complaints with the Human Rights Council of Ontario.

And one of those workers is the plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit against the province of Ontario alleging that the results of DNA samples collected in this and other cases have been retained unlawfully.

Source: Racial profiling concerns raised after ‘DNA sweep’ targeting Middle Eastern men alleged in B.C.

Finally, a sign of national unity: racial profiling in policing: Balkissoon

Sad to say there is a national pattern here:

Indigenous and black people are more likely to be considered suspicious by Vancouver police than people of other races. That’s the takeaway from data released by the city’s police department about how it conducts street checks, the practice of stopping someone to gather information even though they aren’t suspected of a specific crime.

As reported in The Globe and Mail, Indigenous people make up 16 per cent of those stopped and asked for their identification without cause in the city, though they’re only 2 per cent of the population. The 1 per cent of its residents who are black make up 5 per cent of those street checked by police.

These stats are dismal – and the trend is repeated across the country. Also known as “carding,” street checks are practised by police forces from coast to coast, and are a regular point of contention.

That’s mainly because every time someone digs into the data, it turns out that racialized people are more likely to be stopped than white people, meaning more likely to have their identification noted and recorded. This makes them (in Toronto cop parlance) more likely to be “known to police,” despite not actually being involved with a crime.

Specifics do differ from city to city – while black and Indigenous people are most often targeted, those who police consider “brown” show up in the stats for Toronto. Some places like to pick on “Arabs” or “West Asians,” which I think means Muslims who look like the bad guys in Aladdin.

But while individual shades may not match up exactly, the same picture can be seen from Medicine Hat to Ottawa to Halifax. When tasked with trying to keep communities safe, police forces across the country target those who aren’t white.

“I feel a little demoralized,” said Bashir Mohamed, a member of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Edmonton, about learning Vancouver’s carding data. “It makes me wonder if anything will actually be done there. At the end of the day, we weren’t able to do much here.”

Last June, BLM Edmonton released that city’s data on street checks, after obtaining it through a Freedom of Information request. Mr. Mohamed said he was gratified to have proof of his suspicions that his black friends were stopped more often than their white acquaintances.

He was also shocked at one particular statistic: that Indigenous women in Edmonton were almost 10 times more likely to be stopped and to have their identification recorded than anyone else. BLM Edmonton shared the information with the Institute for Advancement of Aboriginal Women and Stolen Sisters, which focus on Indigenous women’s issues.

The three groups put together a number of policy suggestions, some of which echo rules put into place in Ontario around the practice of carding. Since January, 2017, officers in that province must inform people that they have a right not to talk to police or to produce identification unless they’re being arrested or detained.

This is far from perfect – Ontario’s data excludes traffic stops, a rather big exception – but informing people of their rights is a basic place to start.

Mr. Mohamed says he was promised action in person by Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley last fall. Edmonton’s police commission also vowed to review its carding practices and put together a research group to do so in December. Advocacy groups were told to expect the next steps by early 2018, but halfway through the year, nothing has happened yet.

And neither Edmonton, Ontario, nor any other jurisdiction has promised to change how it stores carding data, which is usually kept indefinitely. While there have been calls in some cities to destroy the information entirely, Mr. Mohamed is willing to let it be used by researchers and academics. He just wants it removed from databases meant to list criminals.

After all, police haven’t shown that they need it. Even as forces across Canada insist that personal information about innocent-until-proven-guilty citizens is useful, none have released data to show how street checks help reduce crime. Yet, despite this lack of proof, the constant, unjustified surveillance continues.

This country famously resists being tied together by a common string, with regular hand-wringing about whether anyone cares about maple syrup or hockey anymore. It’s time to claim our actual national past-time – making sure Indigenous, black and other racialized people know they’re being watched with suspicion.

via Finally, a sign of national unity: racial profiling in policing – The Globe and Mail

Nova Scotia tackles racial profiling in stores: ‘It’s about a societal transformation’

Helpful initiative:

More than a decade after racial profiling was identified as a festering problem among some police forces, it is now being addressed in another sector: retailing.

After years of complaints about retail staff who routinely follow, search, ignore, insult and provide poor service to visible
minorities, one province has decided to do something about it in a big way.

On Monday, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission launched a free, online training program aimed at preventing a problem that has sparked a growing chorus of complaints across the country.

National campaign planned

The 20-minute interactive course for front-line service staff — described as the first of its kind in Canada — has already attracted attention from businesses in other provinces and the United States, and plans are in the works to roll out a national campaign.

“As a proud African Nova Scotian and seventh-generation Canadian … I am acutely aware of the problems associated with navigating race relations in our society,” Rev. Lennett Anderson of the African United Baptist Association of Nova Scotia told a news conference at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.

“The need for a campaign such as this is a desperate one … It is worthy of our celebration.”

Report showed poor treatment

The retail sector is Canada’s largest employer, with over two million people working in an industry that generated $59 billion in payroll in 2015.

Christine Hanson, CEO of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, said the need for such a training program was reinforced in 2013 when the commission released a groundbreaking report that concluded Aboriginal people and African Canadians more often reported being treated poorly by retail staff than did any other group.

“In fact, people from all racialized groups, including Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern people, reported being treated poorly by staff far more than did white people,” the report said.

“In the focus groups, several participants commented on being made to feel ‘lower class’ or like ‘second-class citizens’ when shopping.”

Targets of offensive language

The report went on to say that Aboriginal people, African Canadians, and Muslims were all targets of offensive language and were treated as if they were physically threatening and potential thieves.

“A person who is a member of a visible minority group is three times more likely to be followed in a store, and four times more likely to be searched,” Hanson said.

The online program, called “Serving All Customers Better,” includes a quiz about immigration and visible minorities. It also cites statistics from the 2013 report and clearly spells out what the law says.

The course also cites some examples, at one point quoting a worker who said: “I worked for a retailer who said, ‘The eagle has landed,’ when a black person walked into the store. I quit my job over it.”

A cross-country issue

Examples of consumer racial profiling continue to make headlines across the country.

In October 2015, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario agreed with a woman who said she faced discrimination as a black person when she was confronted by a Shoppers Drug Mart employee who demanded to search her backpack on suspicion of shoplifting. The tribunal ordered the store to pay Mary McCarthy $8,000.

And in February 2015, Calgary university student Jean Ventose said he was racially profiled when he was followed by a security guard inside a local Walmart, apparently for no reason. He posted a video on the encounter on Facebook, which received more than one million views and 10,000 reactions in two days.

In August 2016, one of Canada’s largest grocery chains withdrew its appeal of a human rights decision that found an employee of Sobeys had discriminated against a black customer in May 2009 after falsely accusing her of being a repeat shoplifter.

Sobeys said it reached a settlement with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission and would apologize to Andrella David, pay her $21,000 in compensation, and develop a staff training program on racial profiling.

The company faced a boycott by a group of 19 churches in the province.

Repeated racial profiling

As well, Nova Scotia’s first black lieutenant-governor, Mayann Francis, came forward to reveal that she, too, had been the victim of repeated racial profiling while shopping.

At the time, Francis said Nova Scotia was in a state of denial when it came to racial profiling, saying she had often been the victim of “shopping while black” since she left her viceregal post in 2012.

“It does not matter how successful you are, it still can happen to you,” said Francis, who had previously served as CEO of the province’s human rights commission.

“It’s just so wrong and so hurtful and I know how I feel when I’m followed in the stores … They’re stalking you.”

Source: Nova Scotia tackles racial profiling in stores: ‘It’s about a societal transformation’ – Nova Scotia – CBC News

Racial profiling, budget concerns Ottawa top police board meeting

Not a particularly impressive discussion by the Ottawa Police Board on racial profiling:

Attention then quickly turned to the results of a two-year race data project mandated by a settlement with the Ontario Human Rights Commissions, which were revealed last month.

Data from traffic stops, collected by Ottawa police officers and analyzed by a team of researchers, shows Middle Eastern-looking people are 3.3 times more likely to be pulled over than their percentage of the population, while black-looking people are 2.3 times more likely to be pulled over than their percentage of the population.

The project was the result of a racial-profiling complaint lodged by then-18-year-old Chad Aiken, who said he was pulled over because he was black. Both the researchers that conducted the study and Chief Charles Bordeleau said the results didn’t “prove” racial profiling by officers, which the human rights commissioner took exception to at Monday’s meeting.

“All too often when people like Mr. Aiken come forward to speak about racial discrimination, they are dismissed as being overly sensitive or not having enough proof that their experience is systemic — the ‘a few bad apples’ defence,” Renu Mandhane told the board.

“And that’s why we are disappointed by recent comments that the OPS data does not prove racial profiling. Especially when considered together with the personal accounts that led to the data being collected in the first place, the findings are alarming, are entirely consistent with racial profiling, and cannot and should not be easily explained away.”

Mandhane says she wants to specifically hear from the force that the data is consistent with racial profiling, and says acknowledging it is the first step to fixing it.

Bordeleau said he believes “the service has actually stepped up to the plate and done a lot of things.” He pointed to the settlement-mandated study being the first of its kind in the country. “I want to make it clear that I’ve never denied the existence of racial profiling. I said before that racial profiling exists in society, it exists in policing and that it has no place in either.”

Mandhane also called on the force and the board to make policies to eliminate discrimination, have independent monitoring and accountability bodies, and discipline officers who engage in discrimination.

Board chair Coun. Eli El-Chantiry told Mandhane that the board has committed “significant” public resources to measure how police treat people of different racial groups. “The study showed that there was a problem and we have committed to working with our police service to fix it.”

The board also heard from Danardo Jones, legal director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, who also wanted the force to call the results racial profiling and voiced concern about including only data from traffic stops in the study. Bordeleau said it was “unfortunate that four years ago when we reached out the ACLC, and numerous times since that, that you didn’t take us up on the offer to participate (in the report).”

Source: Ottawa Citizen | Latest Breaking News | Business | Sports | Canada …

Race and racism central issue of Toronto election

Margaret Hageman on racism and “white privilege:”

… We know that differences under the skin barely exist. Talking about race only becomes uncomfortable when we talk about different experiences among races in our shared society — such as why over-qualified brown people are driving Toronto’s taxis, or why so many young black men get questioned by police for no good reason, and why white men are over-represented in high-powered positions. It turns out you can’t talk about race without talking about racism.

There is a head-in-the-sand logic that needs to be called out when people deny white privilege. It denies the experiences of black people who get followed around in a store, over-scrutinized by security; or the voice of a black person driving a high-end car who has been stopped by police, over and over again. White privilege is invisible protection against all forms of racial profiling, including a pervasive form on Toronto’s streets called “carding,” where thousands of black and brown youth have been questioned and documented by police in Toronto over the past 10 years. White privilege is not having been carded, and subject to its cascading negative consequences. Investigative journalism done by Jim Rankin of the Star, reveals the numbers that tell the undeniable story about racial profiling by Toronto Police Services.

White privilege is an invisible protection in the streets and in the job market as well, where as a white person, your credentials are generally not called into question, your pay cheque is higher and your networks open doors. This is not opinion. Again, the facts and statistics in the workplace prove that unchecked systemic racism works to the advantage of white people, as shown by Grace-Edward Galabuzzi and Sheila Block’s research on the colour-coded job market in Canada. Denying this injustice will not make it go away.

I have heard people say that if we just stop talking about race, then racism will go away — like pundits who think that we must become colour-blind because the history of racism, the kind of deliberate discrimination against blacks and other non-white races has been discredited and legislated out of existence.

Race and racism central issue of election | Toronto Star.

Appeal court overturns racial profiling case involving customs officer

The Government’s favourite non-Supreme Court judge (Supreme Court rejects Harper appointee Marc Nadon) delivers a ruling likely in line with the Government on racial profiling:

Writing for the panel, Justice Nadon said there was no evidence of racial profiling.

“The officer simply asserted in his statement that in his experience it was not uncommon for Chinese persons to bring agricultural products with them upon returning from China. The officer’s hunch, based on his experience and his observance of the respondent’s demeanour, was confirmed by the secondary examination.”

It was “totally devoid of merit,” he said, to find that the officer had engaged in racial profiling.

The decision represents an important development in the law that surrounds racial profiling since the Federal Court of Appeal is among the nation’s highest.

The country’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada, has yet to hear a case that speaks directly to the issue.In Canada, racial profiling has been defined by a number of criminal cases in which defendants have sought to exclude evidence obtained by what they contend were racially motivated pedestrian stops or car searches. The courts have defined racial profiling as “the targeting of individual members of a particular racial group on the basis of the supposed criminal propensity of the entire group.”

There’s a chicken-and-egg quality to the debate. Police officers have argued that their actions are informed by years of on-the-street experience, while minority groups maintain that experience has been built on old, discriminatory attitudes.

The issue is also alive at Canadian airports where Muslim passengers have often complained of being singled out for interviews and inspection in the years since 9/11. Last year, a fine imposed against Youssef Bougachouch for illegally importing meat was thrown out after a tribunal found that he was among a group of Arab passengers targeted based on their race at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.

Appeal court overturns racial profiling case involving customs officer | Ottawa Citizen.

Column: Here’s your pipe bomb, son; carry on

Mohammed Adam of The Ottawa Citizen asks a valid question about the Edmonton teenager found at the airport with a pipe bomb and who was allowed to fly nonetheless. Did reverse racial profiling play a role?:

In our post-9/11 world, very little common sense is often applied when it comes to security. Once bitten, twice shy, the saying goes, and one can understand why the screws are always turned tight. However, it is heartening to see that in the Murphy case, both the Crown and the courts did not go overboard. Murphy deserves not to be in jail, but I can’t help wondering how an 18-year-old Rehan or Ali from suburban Ottawa or Calgary, who is caught in similar circumstances would have fared. Would the law have been truly equal and blind? We will probably never know.

Column: Here’s your pipe bomb, son; carry on.

Proposed Toronto police reforms to ‘carding’ don’t go far enough

An illustration of racial profiling by the Toronto Police, using “contact cards” (no charges were laid) which disproportionately included young black males. And like all monitoring systems, officers who fill out more cards are rewarded more than others who do not, without any analysis of potential bias.

Proposed Toronto police reforms to ‘carding’ don’t go far enough: Editorial | Toronto Star.