A new report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) suggests that racial profiling is a daily experience for many racialized and Indigenous people in Ontario, arguing that the province is at a "critical juncture" when it comes to addressing the issue.
The report, called Under suspicion: Research and consultation report on racial profiling in Ontario, is based on social science research and consultations with more than 1,600 individuals and organizations from Indigenous, racialized and Muslim communities across the province.
"This report confirms what racialized communities have known for generations: racial profiling is real," said OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane in the report. "Rebuilding trust requires concrete action to address racial profiling in all its forms."
One South Asian woman featured in the report remembered feeling profiled at her job.
"I was at my workplace and we have swipe cards to get into rooms. I went into my office and immediately security knocked at the door. They said they wanted to check who had gone in. I am pretty sure they got alarmed because all they could see was someone wearing hijab walking into an office," she said.
The research found that racial profiling causes "considerable harm" to individuals, their families and the wider community. Dealing with racial discrimination, it said, is exhausting, pervasive and associated with negative affects on mental and physical health.
"It's been absolutely heartbreaking to have to teach my son that because he's black he has to be wary of police. To know how to blend in, to be submissive, to get away alive if ever confronted by a gun-wielding authority," said an Indigenous Latina woman.
According to the report, though Ontario is becoming more racially, ethnically and religiously diverse, it is becoming "increasingly economically stratified," with major institutions focusing on potential threats and concerned about terrorism and violence.
Despite evidence from courts and human rights tribunals of racial profiling occurring on a daily basis, the report said that many people and institutions still deny its reality, with some even seeing it as a "normal, even effective tool for gathering information, assessing risk and ensuring safety."
It also found that the issue is not limited to policing, with many participants reporting that they experienced profiling in the realms of education, retail, and child welfare.
One middle-aged black woman described being followed and watched carefully by shopkeepers.
"When a Caucasian person walks in, they are greeted with 'hello.' I do not get the same treatment," she said. "It made me aware that there is a perception of my race and what I should or should not be able to afford, in some people's eyes."
Going forward, the OHRC says it will develop specific policy to help individuals and communities affected by racial profiling and collaborate with with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities and groups to "better understand Indigenous perspectives."
Report authors also consulted with with legal and academic researchers, educators, human rights practitioners and police officers.