Media Releases

Canadian police agencies suppressing data on race, says criminology study

February 2, 2012

TORONTO, ON — While only 20 per cent of Canada’s police forces have an explic­it pol­i­cy against report­ing the race of vic­tims and accused per­sons, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and Nipiss­ing crim­i­nol­o­gists show that the major­i­ty of police depart­ments do not report race in prac­tice.

The study, by Akwasi Owusu-Bem­pah, a PhD can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Cen­tre for Crim­i­nol­o­gy, and Paul Mil­lar, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at Nipiss­ing University’s School of Crim­i­nol­o­gy and Crim­i­nal Jus­tice,  is enti­tled “White­wash­ing Crim­i­nal Jus­tice in Cana­da: Pre­vent­ing Research through Data Sup­pres­sion”, and appears in the Cana­di­an Jour­nal of Law and Soci­ety on Wednes­day, Feb­ru­ary 1, 2012.

It is impor­tant to under­stand the role of race in polic­ing as recent stud­ies show that blacks are over-rep­re­sent­ed in local police stops in Cana­da and Abo­rig­i­nals are over-rep­re­sent­ed in Cana­di­an pris­ons. Part of the expla­na­tion for over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the authors write, is that these minori­ties are often sit­u­at­ed in posi­tions of social dis­ad­van­tage, putting them at greater risk of involve­ment in crime as both vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors. But dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment by police and oth­ers aspects of crim­i­nal jus­tice is an impor­tant fac­tor as well.

“If we are seri­ous about reduc­ing racism and mak­ing our law respon­sive to behav­iour instead of per­son­al char­ac­ter­is­tics, we must sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly col­lect data on race,” said Mil­lar, lead author of the study.

“Sup­press­ing race sta­tis­tics makes quan­ti­ta­tive anti-racism research impos­si­ble. Fur­ther, fail­ure to col­lect data does not pre­vent racial pro­fil­ing.  Stigma­ti­za­tion may still occur but with­out pub­lic knowl­edge of it,” the authors write.

The researchers found that where race is report­ed it is often done so incon­sis­tent­ly.  For exam­ple, some sur­veys may explic­it­ly iden­ti­fy Abo­rig­i­nal while oth­ers iden­ti­fy only “vis­i­ble minor­i­ty”.   Vis­i­ble minor­i­ty is not a use­ful cat­e­go­ry because it com­bines racial groups that are over-rep­re­sent­ed in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem with oth­ers that are under-rep­re­sent­ed, thus obscur­ing prob­lems involv­ing race.

The authors eval­u­at­ed avail­able data on vic­tims and accused per­sons in Cana­da includ­ing Sta­tis­tics Cana­da sur­veys and coun­try-wide sur­veys of police-report­ed crime.  The Uni­form Crime Report­ing (UCR) sur­vey, which has been respond­ed to by all police ser­vices in Cana­da since 1962 (with the excep­tion of a few Abo­rig­i­nal police detach­ments), does not include race.  The Uni­form Crime Report­ing Inci­dent-based sur­vey records no race oth­er than Abo­rig­i­nal ori­gin.  Final­ly, for the homi­cide sur­vey which has been col­lect­ed on mur­der since 1961, no race is record­ed oth­er than Abo­rig­i­nal ori­gin. The authors note that while Abo­rig­i­nal is an impor­tant cat­e­go­ry – arguably the most impor­tant in Cana­da – there may be some juris­dic­tions, such as Hal­i­fax or Toron­to where oth­er cat­e­gories, such as black, may be of more inter­est.

“Infor­ma­tion on race is essen­tial for the equi­table pro­vi­sion of polic­ing ser­vices and for the devel­op­ment of police pol­i­cy,” said Owusu-Bem­pah.

Mil­lar and Owusu-Bem­pah argue trans­paren­cy is key to bet­ter rela­tion­ships between the police and the com­mu­ni­ties they serve.   “Police agen­cies in this coun­try spend mil­lions of dol­lars a year on ini­tia­tives to improve rela­tions with racial­ized com­mu­ni­ties and to reduce racial dis­crim­i­na­tion with­in polic­ing. With­out ade­quate infor­ma­tion about the racial back­ground of indi­vid­u­als who come into con­tact with, or are dealt with by the police, these ini­tia­tives can­not be accu­rate­ly devel­oped or eval­u­at­ed for effec­tive­ness,”  said Owusu-Bem­pah.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Paul Mil­lar
School of Crim­i­nol­o­gy and Crim­i­nal Jus­tice
Nipiss­ing Uni­ver­si­ty
705–474-3450  ext 4022

Akwasi Owusu-Bem­pah
Cen­tre for Crim­i­nol­o­gy and Soci­ole­gal Stud­ies
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
416–978-7124 ext 240

Kim Luke
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to