MPs amend judge sex-assault training bill to add systemic racism training, sparking new concerns

Hard to understand the concerns given that the Canadian Judicial Council will develop the training but I may be missing something:

A bill that requires sexual assault training for federally appointed judges has been amended by MPs to also include training on “systemic racism and systemic discrimination” — a change some see as a troubling sign politicians will keep venturing further into judicial training.

The legislation, which has now gone through three versions in four years, has seen widespread debate in the legal community over its constitutionality. Judges are self-governed through independent bodies to insulate them from political pressure, and already have their own training programs, including on sexual assault.

Supporters of the bill argue this is simply Parliament signalling that more must be done to protect the rights of sexual assault complainants and avoid basic legal errors. They note that judicial organizations are still responsible for creating the actual training content.

But critics worry the bill represents politicians trying to inject their policy preferences into judicial training, and that once the door is opened through this sex-assault training bill, future governments will pile on with their own political priorities, such as national security.

As it turns out, MPs have not even waited for the bill to get through the House of Commons before adding to it.

Liberal MP Greg Fergus told the Commons justice committee on Tuesday that his amendments are in order because the bill already required the training to consider the “social context” around sexual assault. The new language specifies that social context includes “systemic racism and systemic discrimination.” It does not include any other topics, and does not define those terms.

“I found that this offered us a good opportunity to…include other groups into the purpose of the bill,” said Fergus, who chairs the parliamentary Black caucus. “Those are the reasons why I proposed some small modifications,” he said, speaking in French.

The amendments were carried with Liberal, Conservative and NDP support, though they still need to pass in the full House of Commons and the Senate. Only Bloc Québécois MP Rhéal Fortin voted against them, saying they stray too far off track.

“It’s like we’d gone off to buy potatoes at the store, and we returned home with strawberries,” Fortin said in French. “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work…If we want to work on a different bill than the original one, which was for training on sexual assault, and we want something different on systemic discrimination, that’s fine and well, that can be something we could do. But we’ll have to make another bill completely or reopen the witness list.”

Fortin also argued that the term “systemic racism” is a politically popular phrase right now, but it’s not clear to everyone what it means.

Arif Virani, the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, responded that there is wide social consensus around the phrase as it applies to institutions, and it “reflects sort of where we are as a nation, as a continent.”

Liberal MP James Maloney said that Fortin’s concerns about judicial independence could also be applied to the original bill, which Fortin supports. “We’ve crossed that threshold, Mr. Fortin,” Maloney said.

The legislation amends the Judge’s Act to require judges “undertake to participate in continuing education” on sexual assault and social context, and requires that the Canadian Judicial Council develop the training “with persons, groups or organizations the Council considers appropriate, such as sexual assault survivors and groups and organizations that support them.” It requires the Council to report to Parliament on when the seminars were given and how many judges attended.

The first version was introduced by former Conservative leader Rona Ambrose in 2017, but it stalled in the Senate in 2019 over concerns of judicial independence. It was largely rewritten in the Senate, mainly by Sen. Pierre Dalphond, a former Quebec judge, who scaled back some of the more intrusive parts of the bill.

However, procedural wrangling kept the bill from advancing and it died on the 2019 election call. Justice Minister David Lametti revived it in February as government legislation, but that bill also died when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament in August.

Dalphond told National Post that from what he understands of the amendments, they’re acceptable to him since they only mention systemic racism as one part of the social context, not the whole definition. He also said that in his experience, systemic racism is already an important part of judicial training. But he warned that Parliament must not go too far in attempting to direct the training or influence the content.

“The shorter the better,” Dalphond said about the legislation.

Asked for comment, Ambrose replied with a statement that did not mention the systemic racism amendment. “I know victims of sexual assault are thankful that MPs are working together to get this bill passed,” she said. “I hope it passes without delay.”

Lametti’s office also did not comment directly on the amendment, but said the justice minister “fully agrees with the need to take action to address systemic racism in Canada’s justice system.”

Many in the legal profession are deeply concerned about the precedent the bill sets. Gib van Ert, a lawyer who was executive legal officer at the Supreme Court of Canada from 2015 to 2018, wrote in Maclean’s in February that governments should not be legislating training for judges, because once it starts it might never end.

“Why not put a few more required courses on the judges’ curriculum?” van Ert wrote rhetorically at the time. “Why not train our judges in systemic racism, Indigenous laws and rights, climate change, national security and counterterrorism, border security and unlawful migration?”

His essay turned out to be prescient.

“Of course, judges should learn about sexual assault and systemic racism,” van Ert told the Post on Tuesday. “They already do, through their own judge-led training programs. The problem lies in the training being mandated by politicians. When people go to court they need to feel their judge isn’t just thinking and doing what the government tells them to. They need to believe judges are independent. I continue to think this is a bad precedent.”

Source: MPs amend judge sex-assault training bill to add systemic racism training, sparking new concerns

NYPD Study: Implicit Bias Training Changes Minds, Not Necessarily Behavior

Significant study, highlighting the apparent lack of change in behaviour following implicit bias training, with some good discussion of the limitations and implications:

As U.S. law enforcement departments are accused of racist policing, one of the most common responses by the people in charge has been to have officers take “implicit bias” training.

The training usually consists of a seminar in the psychological theory that unconscious stereotypes can lead people to make dangerous snap judgments. For instance, unconscious associations of African Americans with crime might make cops quicker to see them as suspects.

After the 2014 Ferguson, Mo., protests, states rushed to require the training. Now a majority do, with New Jersey joining the list late last month.

But despite the boom in implicit bias training, there has been little real-life research into whether it actually changes what police officers do on the job.

“It’s like I’m offering you a pill to fix some disease, and I haven’t tested to see whether it actually works,” says Joshua Correll, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he studies racial bias. “Expecting that we can take people in and train them to reduce their implicit bias — I don’t think it’s been supported by the literature.”

That’s why Correll is excited about a new study at the New York Police Department that allowed researchers to track the effects of mandatory implicit bias training as it was implemented in 2018.

Their findings? As measured in surveys before and after their training, NYPD officers expressed more awareness of the concept of implicit bias and greater willingness to try to manage it.

“We could certainly say that the training can be credited with elevating officers’ comprehension of what implicit bias is,” says Robert E. Worden, director of the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety in Albany, N.Y., and the lead author of the study.

But then the researchers examined data about NYPD officers’ actions on the job before and after the training. Specifically, they looked at a breakdown of the ethnic disparities among the people who were arrested and had other kinds of interactions with those officers. And in those numbers, they found no meaningful change.

“It’s fair to say that we could not detect effects of the training on officers’ enforcement behaviors,” says Worden.

Worden calls it a “null result”: It doesn’t prove implicit bias training changes cops’ behavior, but it doesn’t disprove it either.

The trainers are undeterred.

“We believe that our training reduces biased behavior on the streets of the jurisdictions where we train,” says Lorie Fridell, the University of South Florida criminology professor who developed the “Fair and Impartial Policing” curriculum used in New York. “That the research didn’t detect those changes in behavioral outcomes does not mean that they did not occur.”

She points to the inherent difficulties in measuring real-life outcomes in policing, especially in a place like New York. Multiple other variables may have clouded the data, such as the city’s preexisting efforts to reduce race as a factor in police stops.

The NYPD brass also doesn’t seem to be bothered by the lack of change in behaviors.

“That wasn’t the objective,” says First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin B. Tucker. “The training was designed just to have them do some self-reflection and just to understand that any biases that they may have may creep into their job,” he says. “That awareness, we think, adds value in and of itself.”

Tucker says the training is worth the $5.5 million it costs per year.

Anecdotally, police officers around the U.S. are getting used to the training and even warming to it.

“I think that even the most cynical cop out there would agree that prejudice on the street is a problem and you’ve got to try to do something,” says Adam Plantinga, a San Francisco police sergeant who writes about policing.

Plantinga says his department’s training was “pretty good,” because it helped officers explore the unconscious associations that might affect their split-second decisions.

“If we approach a suspect who’s reaching for his pocket,” he says, “does that white suspect get a second or two more of a grace period than the suspect of color, before we draw our gun?”

But from a purely utilitarian perspective, do such moments of “self-reflection,” as the NYPD’s Tucker put it, actually lead to fairer policing, especially given the unresolved debate among researchers about how — or even whether — implicit bias governs behavior?

Correll, the psychology professor, says the training itself probably doesn’t hurt, but there’s an opportunity cost to consider, especially if the effort to “fix” implicit bias in officers displaces other kinds of training or gives a city an excuse to ignore factors that are external to policing.

“You don’t need to intervene at the level of the individual [police officer’s] brain,” Correll says. “You need to intervene at the level of the culture,” such as grappling with the reasons certain communities have more encounters with the police, such as poverty or public housing policies that end up concentrating particular ethnic groups in crime-prone areas.

Even one of the pioneers of the theory of implicit bias, Harvard University psychology professor Mahzarin Banaji, worries about the quality of implicit bias training for police.

“The teaching [of implicit bias concepts] has been in the hands of people called ‘diversity trainers,’ and they’re like politicians — they don’t have to have any expertise,” Banaji says, referring to the decentralized, entrepreneurial reality of the world of police consultants and trainers.

She doesn’t like the fact that departments usually make the training mandatory. That’s likely to create resistance, she says, and it defeats the goal of convincing officers that they stand to benefit from understanding their unconscious biases and learning ways to compensate for them.

At the same time, she says, even the best implicit bias training shouldn’t be expected to produce immediate changes in the behaviors of a whole police department.

“That, to me, is like saying, ‘Can I give you a lecture on climate change?’ and tomorrow you’re going to stop driving your car and start taking public transportation,” she says. “I don’t think the question is commensurate with the behavior that they’re measuring.”

She believes there are still years of research ahead before we can say we know how to deal effectively with implicit bias.

Others are trying to make progress on that. Following the NYPD study, the next major attempt to test the effectiveness of implicit bias training on police is work being done by Lois James, at Washington State University. She’s one of the developers of Counter Bias Training Simulation, a curriculum that uses video scenarios in shooting simulators to show officers the dangers created by implicit bias.

The hope is that a more hands-on experience will have a deeper impact, but she’s not assuming it works.

“As someone who’s literally developed an implicit bias program, [I think] it would be irresponsible for us to not test the outcome,” James says. “It can’t be just speculation.”

She’s in the middle of an experiment with the Sacramento Police Department in which some officers will get her simulator-based training, some will get traditional, seminar-style implicit bias training and some will get neither. Then her graduate students will review the body camera videos of officers’ interactions with the public — before and after the training period — and score them for how civilly the officers treat each ethnic group.

James says she finds it “disheartening” that the NYPD study found no behavioral change, and she says, “Many people are expecting me to find nothing too, but we’ll see.”

Even if her study also finds no behavioral change, she says, “it doesn’t mean we should eradicate implicit bias training. It just means we have to work harder.”

Source: NYPD Study: Implicit Bias Training Changes Minds, Not Necessarily Behavior