Growing up as a Black man in Toronto, Jay Williams says he never had any positive experiences with police officers.
“All the stereotypes that you can think of, I had to endure and those still sit with me to this day because it still happens,” Williams told Global News in a Zoom interview.
Whether he was driving an old or a nice car, he said it didn’t matter.
“I’ve always consistently been pigeonholed, pulled out of a lineup, and nothing has ever come of it,” said Williams. “It has always been ‘you fit the profile of who we’re looking for’ or ‘we weren’t sure whose car this was’ or ‘your music is too loud.'”
On Wednesday, Statistics Canada released two articles containing detailed analyses of the perceptions and self-reported experiences of diverse populations in Canada, with a particular focus on Black and Indigenous people.
These studies showed that Black and Indigenous people are twice as likely as others to report that they have little or no confidence in police, and that the experiences of discrimination are more common in the daily lives of Black people.
In daily life, Black people were more likely to report experiencing discrimination in a variety of circumstances, including in banks, stores or restaurants, and when dealing with the police.
According to the 2019 General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety, nearly half (46 per cent) of Black people reported experiencing discrimination in the past five years — a proportion that was nearly three times that of the non-Indigenous, non-visible minority population (16 per cent).
Black people still being stopped, questioned
An assistant professor at the school of public health at the University of Toronto, Akwatu Kenti, said addressing and discussing the uncomfortable truths of anti-black racism has grown considerably following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., by a police officer.
That incident caused a movement to defund the police in the United States, which influenced activists in Canada.
However, Kenti explained that the culture hasn’t shifted significantly because despite changes in documentation requirements for street checks, for instance, Canada still has a disparity in the frequency of police interaction with Black people, especially with Black male youth.
According to the 2020 General Social Survey on Social Identity, one in five (21 per cent) Black people aged 15 and older reported having little or no confidence in police, double the proportion reported by non-Indigenous, non-visible minority people (11 per cent).
The findings of Statistics Canada also show that the criminal justice system has often been scrutinized for a number of issues, including the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the correctional system and the disproportionate number of Black people who are stopped or questioned by police.
“The traffic and pedestrian interventions by police lead to Black people being overly arrested for the possession or trafficking of cannabis compared to other races who may be using drugs at the same rates,” said Kenti.
He said there are also a lot of complaints from Black people over police’s use of excessive force, disrespect, harassment, and false arrests.
“I think there should be some sort of independent mechanism to assess those complaints in real-time. It shouldn’t be the case where you have to go and file a human rights complaint and wait four years for it to work its way through the system because that’s not justice,” said Kenti.
An assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto, Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, said that too often the police try to improve relations and built trust with Black community through community policing initiatives that don’t necessarily change the way in which the police interact with or deal with people on the streets.
“These community policing initiatives are what we might call PR exercises,” said Owusu-Bempah whose work examines the intersections of race, crime, and criminal justice, with a particular focus in the area of policing.
“But what we’re seeing is that rates of stop and search have not decreased.”
Trucker convoy fuelling perceptions of mistrust
People participating in the so-called “Freedom Convoy” blockade of downtown Ottawa have paralyzed the nation’s capital for 21 days.
Convoy protesters on Parliament Hill have been protesting against vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions and have created an encampment filled with trucks, RVs and other vehicles in the downtown core. These “heavy types of equipment” could potentially be used as weapons, according to Owusu-Bempah.
Kenti said certain lines have been crossed, and public safety is clearly at risk for people who live in Ottawa amid the trucker convoy protests.
“There are people who have been abused for wearing a mask or when it comes to racialized residents, they don’t feel safe walking around some of the vicious or racist symbols,” he said.
“When you see lines being crossed and the responses from police are soft, that’s when your suspicions are confirmed that there’s a double standard. You always think that there’s a double standard because of the frequency of stops and also because when black people are stopped, they’re more likely to be searched than white people,” Kenti added.
In the early days of the protest, one truck waived a Confederate flag, while other protesters misappropriated the Star of David and brandished Nazi symbols and slogans.
“If the convoy protesters were mainly people of colour, Indigenous and Black people, I think this story would have been very different,” said Williams.
He said there has been some hate towards the truckers convoy protesters, but there has also been a lot of support as was evident from the donations. In early February, the Freedom Convoy 2022 fundraiser on GoFundMe raised more than $10 million, which was eventually frozen by the platform for violating terms of service. (include link to story)
“That was kind of the scary to see the privilege that rang true in these protests,” said Williams.
“If the protesters were having a true feeling of injustice, then they would have been arguing or having the same energy for the injustices against Black people, against Indigenous people, against police brutality.”