Canada: Hold police accountable for anti-Black racism

“… the Working Group is deeply concerned by the structural racism that lies at the core of many Canadian institutions and the systemic anti-Black racism that continues to have a negative impact on the human rights situation of [Black people in Canada]. .” ….[T]here is clear evidence that racial profiling is endemic in the strategies and practices used by law enforcement.” 

— “Report of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its Mission to Canada”, August 2017 

George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died during an attempted arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, when a police officer forcibly pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, during which time he was unable to breathe. The number of Black people in the USA who have been killed, profiled, harassed or otherwise targeted by law enforcement including police, security guards and by private citizens continues to grow at a staggering rate. Further, the number of Black women, transgender, and gender non-conforming people who die from racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic violence is an alarming cause for concern. Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade are the latest on this often-omitted list. 

All four officers involved in George Floyd’s death have now been arrested, but justice is far from guaranteed due to a 99% impunity rate in the USA. Ongoing mass demonstrations across the USA have been met with police repression and thousands of arrests. 

Just two days after the death of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who is Black and Indigenous, plummeted to her death on May 27 in Toronto from the 24th floor of her apartment building after municipal police officers entered the residence. Her family had reportedly been made to wait in the hallway outside the apartment. Serious concerns have been raised and questions asked, including by her family, about the circumstances surrounding her death. Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) – the province’s police watchdog – is investigating the case.  

There have been repeated concerns raised over the years about the mandate, independence and effectiveness of the SIU. In his March 2017 Report on the Independent Police Oversight Review, Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Michael Tulloch made 129 recommendations for improving police oversight in Ontario, many of which are directed at the SIU. The bulk of those recommendations remain unimplemented.  

Such incidents are not rare: in April, 26-year-old D’Andre Campbell was shot in his home by Peel police officers. In 2018, The Ontario Human Rights Commission interim report on anti-Black racism in policing stated that Black people in Toronto are up to 20 times more likely to be shot dead by police than white people.  

The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has raised alarms about systemic racism within Canada’s justice system, including specific concerns on how police practices such as carding disproportionately impacts Black people. Those concerns are also documented in numerous other reports, including from the Ontario Human Rights Commission and Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Amnesty International has called on governments and police forces across Canada to end carding, street checks and racial profiling.

But in the face of this reality, on June 3, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was dismissive of concerns that anti-Black racism is a serious problem here, noting: “Thank God that we’re different than the United States and we don’t have the systemic, deep roots [of racism] they have had for years.”  When faced with criticism in the legislature, Premier Ford subsequently acknowledged systemic racism in Ontario and across Canada. His comments nonetheless represent the all too frequent denial of anti-Black racism in Canada which we have heard repeated by numerous politicians and public figures over the past two weeks.  

Amnesty International unequivocally supports frontline groups and activists in communities across the country who work courageously and tirelessly to expose that systemic racism and demand justice for the growing number of Black people who have been wrongly arrested, mistreated or killed by police in towns and cities in all parts of Canada.  

Read more:

Not just in the US: Amnesty International Canada strongly condemns anti-Black racism 
Ending anti-Black racism: Sympathy and outrage are not enough  

What you can do

In response to the death of George Floyd in the USA, Prime Minister Trudeau said:  

“We can’t pretend that racism doesn’t exist in Canada. Anti-black racism is real. Unconscious bias is real. Systemic discrimination is real. And they happen here, in Canada.” 

In response to the recent wave of protests and outrage across Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau and members of his government have made repeated comments highlighting concerns about anti-Black racism in Canada, including in connection with policing. However, this has not been matched by concrete action to advance the meaningful change that is so urgently required. 

1. Urge PM Trudeau and Minister Chagger to live up to their 2019 election promises

Write to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Diversity and Inclusion Bardish Chagger urging them to live up to their 2019 election promise to strengthen and double the funding for “Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy” such that it more substantially addresses concerns with the justice system and anti-Black racism.

2. Urge PM Trudeau and Minister Blair to institute a ban on carding, street checks and racial profiling by law enforcement

Write to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair, urging them to institute an absolute ban at federal level on practices of carding, street checks and racial profiling by police and law enforcement agencies, including the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency.  Further call on them to engage with their provincial and territorial counterparts towards the goal of having such bans extend to all police and law enforcement agencies in the country. 

In writing to Minister Blair, note that he carries a particular responsibility to take meaningful action to address anti-Black racism in policing and will be watched closely in how he responds, given that he was the Toronto police chief during the G20 summit in June 2010 which saw the police violate civil rights, detain people illegally, and use excessive force, and he supported carding while police Chief and oversaw the adoption of a new policy on the practice that did not incorporate  most of the restrictions on carding that had originally been requested by the Toronto Police Services Board.  

Encourage Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Blair to show leadership in initiating comprehensive reform of policing in Canada, to address concerns about racism. That reform agenda should refrain from additional funding for law enforcement, consider significant reductions in spending on policing, curtail militarization of police forces, discontinue programs that put police in schools, ban the use of facial recognition technology by police for mass surveillance, address the intersectionality that exists in policing Black women and Black trans individuals, comprehensively overhaul police oversight, and end all other harmful and racist policies and practices. 

Encourage the Prime Minister and Minister Blair to engage in broad consultations about community-led efforts that reimagine and propose new, transformative approaches to how to uphold public safety and set and apportion police budgets.  

Contact Information 

Right. Honourable Justin Trudeau 
Office of the Prime Minister 
80 Wellington Street 
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0A2 
Twitter @JustinTrudeau 

Honourable Bardish Chagger 
Minister of Diversity and Inclusion 
House of Commons 
Ottawa ON  K1A 0A6 
Twitter @BardishKW 

Honourable Bill Blair 
Minister of Public Safety 
House of Commons 
Ottawa ON   K1A 0A6 
Twitter @BillBlair 

3. Ask your MP, MPP, MLA, and municipal councillors what they are prepared to do to address anti-Black racism in your community

4. Add your name to Amnesty’s call for justice in the case of George Floyd in the USA

Take Action: Demand Justice for George Floyd

5. Move beyond condemning racism to being anti-racist: 

Summary of Resources: