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“I Am Not A Stereotype” Human Rights Community Forum

December 10, 2013

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UN International Human Rights Day, 2013 was celebrated on December 10th by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations in collaboration with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC), by holding a joint public forum to explore the issue of Racial Profiling in our community. The event was generously supported by the Labour-Community Services.

The panel discussion on stereotyping and racial profiling. included:  human rights lawyers, , Michelle Mulgrave (from HRLSC) and Geri Sanson (in private practice), Toronto Star investigative reporter Jim Rankin who has been reporting on Toronto Police practices of ‘carding’ for over 10 years, Cutty Duncan, youth organizer from Action for Neighbourhood Change in Weston/Mt.Denis area and Zya Brown, outreach coordinator, from Breaking the Cycle, a program which aims to support youth leaving gangs. Pat Case, Law Professor and Chair of the HRLSC, moderated the panel.

The panel presented to a packed room of diverse  and engaged Toronto residents. Panelists spoke about defending clients successfully in human rights cases of  racial discrimination and provided insight into how to bring forward individual and systemic cases; in one case of “Lawyering while Black, Geri Sanson talked about the great courage and tenacity to completion. Michelle Musgrave echoed that sentiment – taking a complaint of racial profiling forward “changes you forever”.

Front-line activists talked about the effect of police practices such as ‘carding’ which is a wide-spread practice that police use to ID and then gain information on youth in communities, which contributes to  the alienation of black youth through persistent racial profiling. Cutty Duncan remarked, “Being tough on crime often means being tough on young black men.” Other related that need support are access to justice issues and access to services and employment.

There was discussion about some collective action that might reverse the practice of police racial profiling.  The data on carding, according to the Toronto Star’s investigation is that over 1 million ‘cards’ have been made in the last 5 years, mostly of young racialized men.  Toronto’s black population is only 8% of the larger population. Rankin also talked about how the discussion on racial profiling has matured over the last several years, with more accountability and harder questions being put forward at the Police Services Board, especially since the G20, when more of the mainstream population started asking questions about accountable policing.

A  member of the audience suggested that we make racial profiling a political issue and hold elected officials responsible for discrimination in policing. He also suggested we look at the Police Services Act. Panelists responded by saying that political organizing should be coupled with litigation and that issues with carding might  be brought to the Human Rights Tribunal. A lawyer in the audience suggested that we must always go to the Human Rights Code and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Other audience input included a campaign and development of a app that would allow people who have had incidents fo racial profiling, a place to upload that experience, tentatively called “Being Black is Not a Crime”.

The event wrapped up with a closing address by UARR president Gary Pieters who remarked, “I support putting heat on the system” explaining that racial profiling diminishes the citizenship of all people, and so next steps such as building coalition around this issue is something that UARR would support.

We’ll keep you posted.

By Ashley McFarlane and Margaret Hageman

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