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Racial profiling occurs at Ontario airports, malls, and schools, report says

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Racial profiling is alive and well in Ontario, according to a new survey by the province’s human rights commission — with more than 1,500 Ontarians reporting experiences of being racially profiled not just by police, but also at their workplaces, schools, hospitals and shopping malls.

While police encounters remain a common situation where racialized groups have experienced profiling, respondents reported being targeted because of their race in a broad range of contexts, the Ontario Human Rights Commission writes in its new report “Under Suspicion,” released Wednesday.

“Concerns about racial profiling are broader than policing,” the report says. “Racialized and Indigenous peoples may experience unwarranted heightened scrutiny in education, stores, shopping malls, housing and workplaces, on buses, subways and trains, at airports and border crossings, in health care and by private security and child welfare agencies.”

The report is based on consultations and survey results from 1,650 individuals and organizations, gleaning wide-ranging personal experiences of racial profiling and data shedding light on the places and scenarios in which the phenomenon occurs. The survey, conducted in the summer of 2015, was not meant to capture the average Ontarian’s experience; rather, it draws from a “non-random sample,” specifically targeting members of the indigenous, racialized and Muslim communities, as well as experts in human rights, academia and law.

The commission states that the individual reports of racial profiling have not been independently verified and that it cannot determine with certainty that they stem from discrimination.

However, the accounts highlight concerns and themes that help understand where and when racial profiling occurs, the report says.

The experiences of those surveyed varied depending on gender, ethnicity and racial background. For instance, the most common scenario where women were racially profiled was shopping in stores, while men were most likely to report be racially profiled in a police encounter.

A large proportion of indigenous people said they were racially profiled in health care — a complaint that was not common among other racialized groups — while those who were Muslim, South Asian, Arab or West Asian were most likely to report racial profiling at airports, in employment contexts, and on buses and subways.

The human rights commission says there was a need to specifically examine racial profiling because it’s a type of discrimination that is not widely appreciated to be as damaging as others, such as denying someone a job based on race.

Additionally, “many institutions, police leaders and people in the general public have denied the existence of racial profiling, or have viewed it as warranted,” reads the report.

The research comes at a “critical juncture” when the province is becoming more diverse in racial, ethnic and religious terms, but increasingly concerned with assessing safety threats, such as terrorism and violence.

The report included anonymous personal stories of racial profiling in its report. Below are summaries of some of those accounts.

Policing
A black woman recounted the time police approached her son as he was walking home from school. The officers asked what he was doing in this particular neighbourhood, and he responded he was just going home. They didn’t believe him, however, and demanded his identification, threatening to take him into the police station for questioning. “He gave them his student ID for the bus,” the mother said. “My son was 11 years old.”

Child welfare

A midwife who works with indigenous women said she often sees “racist assumptions and mistreatments based on race” — for example, calling social workers or child protection services simply because the parents are young and indigenous. “Once that involvement starts, Aboriginal women are much more likely to have their babies removed for much more dubious reasons.”

Transportation

An Iranian man was waiting for his bus one day inside a TTC station when he noticed the booth collector looking at him strangely and speaking into the phone. The next thing he knew, three “big guys” accosted him and flashed their badges, accusing him of intimidating the TTC worker — who was several feet away and fully enclosed behind glass. “I was scared and shocked,” he said.

“Then came the same question, ‘Where were you born?’ and I had to answer with shame ‘Iran,’ as if it had anything to do with it.” When the man asked why he was treated this way, he was told there was a policy against standing inside the TTC for more than three minutes. To which, he points out: “I was waiting for the bus…??!!”
Education

A black woman said she and her 7-year-old son have faced “numerous incidents” of racial profiling by their local school board. Her son has “been criminalized, bullied by students and administration, and accused of having behavioural problems, even though specialists say otherwise.

And despite getting “exceptionally good grades,” her son has been told that he isn’t succeeding in French immersion. “I have faced racial profiling at their hands as well,” she said.

Health care

An indigenous woman said her pregnant daughter-in-law — a dark-skinned status Indian — went to the hospital because her baby had stopped moving.

A medical resident was working but there were no doctors on staff to make a decision, so they didn’t do anything. “They made my daughter-in-law wait for hours,” she said. “My husband and I went to the hospital to help. I am fair skinned and my husband is not aboriginal.

It was only when they saw what looked like two white people that they started to move and act, and she got a C-section.” But by that time, the baby had already been deprived of oxygen for five hours and was born clinically dead. After the baby was revived, hospital staff asked her daughter-in-law “what she took to harm her baby.”

They repeated the question four times. Today, the baby is 7 years old and living with many disabilities, including an inability to speak.
Retail and private security

They call it “Shopping While Black.” One black woman says that when she goes shopping, she is regularly followed, watched carefully, or asked “Can I help you” — not because they are offering customer service, but because they are questioning why she is there. “At the same time, I have numerous experiences where I am ignored or have to assert my position in line, as they skip over to the white person,” she said. “I am sure that most black people can relate to the shopping experience where the teller drops your change into your hand from a height, while somewhat recoiling, and you see them place the change into the hand of the white customers.”

National security

A woman at an Ontario university says she works with Muslim students who are routinely called upon by CSIS to discuss potentially “radical” peers on campus. “These visits are not only intimidating but clear instances of racial profiling based on religion,” she said. “These types of meeting requests have been met with little to no challenge by higher education institutions and I have not seen any other racial, ethnic, religious groups targeted in this way.”

Housing

A middle-aged white woman said she once accompanied an indigenous friend who was looking for an apartment. “The prospective landlord made a point of mentioning that there were mice, which reinforced my friend’s already strong sense that this person did not like aboriginal people and that she was an unwelcome prospective tenant. She has since died on the street in 2006.”

Employment

A South Asian Muslim woman described an experience at her workplace, where employees have to swipe cards to access certain rooms. “I went into my office and immediately security knocked at the door,” she recalled. “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.”

Canada

Somali youth project update (Project TooSoo)

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CBC —  For the past year, a group of young Somalis in Toronto has been learning how to re-claim the stories told about their community.

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Arts & Culture

Kenyan-Somali, black, Muslim and Canadian: new doc explores Canada’s hyphenated identities

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Short documentary ‘Hyphen-Nation’ by 22-year-old Torontonian puts five black women in conversation

A new documentary by a 22-year-old Toronto filmmaker is analyzing what is means to be an immigrant in Canada.

Directed and produced by Samah Ali, Hyphen-Nation features a 14-minute conversation between five women of colour that is inspired by her own cultural experience.

The women discuss how their cultural heritage influences their identities as Canadians and immigrants.

“The whole conversation is what’s your hyphen?” explained Ali, calling her debut film a “nuanced” discussion about what black Canadian identities look like.

“And that’s what opens it up to so many people to identify with because whether it’s themselves or their family members who have an immigration story, everybody typically has a hyphen.”

The women are asked if they identify with being black Canadians.

Ali explains this is both liberating and tragic. She identifies as a Kenyan-Somali woman, along with a Muslim woman and a black woman.

“I don’t know if I identify strongly as a Canadian, but definitely when I leave Canada I identify as a Canadian,” she said despite being born and raised in Toronto.

“The other parts of my identity, the ones that are more visible, the ones that I practice everyday are definitely the ones that are on the forefront of my mind. Compared to my Canadianness, it’s something that I’m not really aware of until I have my passport and I’m travelling to other countries.”
Sojin Chun, programmer for Regent Park Film Festival, says the short documentary captures the theme of the festival.

“We really want to show different narratives that you wouldn’t normally see through other means, through the mainstream media,” she said.

The three day event is free and showcases the work of women of colour which reflects Toronto’s east end neighbourhood.

“We really make sure we represent all the cultures that are present in Regent Park,” said Chun.

Ali explains this is why she wanted Hyphen-Nation to premiere at the film festival.

“I want this film to foster a greater community, not only in Canada, but also worldwide.”

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Canada

Somali-Canadian Community Discusses Causes Behind Rise in Youth Gang Activity

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The Somali community that settled in Canada says poverty and a lack of access to jobs and academic opportunities are some of the factors behind deadly gang violence that has taken a toll on its youth.

More than two dozen young Somali men have died in Alberta because of such violence in the past decade, with gang activity spreading to Toronto as well, officials say.

The Somali-Canadian population discussed the issue of gang-related deaths recently at a town hall forum hosted in Toronto by VOA’s Somali Service. In attendance at the town hall were an Islamic preacher, a woman who lost a son to violence, and two people representing youth and parents in the community. More than 200 people attended, including parents, relatives and friends of the victims of gang violence.

In 1991, a large number of Somalis fleeing war in their east African country settled in a group of residential towers in northwest Toronto.

Cultural challenges

The community has struggled to integrate into Canadian life, but several speakers said the largest impediments are cultural challenges, as well as poverty and a lack of opportunities for Somali youth, panel members said.

Habiba Aden, a cofounder of a Somali group called Positive Change, lost her 26-year-old son Warsame Ali in a double homicide in September 2012 in Toronto. She said she believes cultural challenges and a loss of identity are major issues driving young Somalis toward gang activity.

“Our sons lack paternal role model, and they do not speak their mother language, which forces them struggle with identity crisis,” Aden said.

In Canada, “mothers take the leading role of the family while still struggling with raising more than half a dozen kids. They do not get the same help and cultural co-parenting they would get back home from other family members,” Aden said.

She said she believes those challenges lead families to be less physically affectionate with one another, and eventually drive their sons to outside influences.

Sidiq Ali Hashi, the youth representative on the panel said Somali youth are affected by the socioeconomic status of the community coupled with the influence of the poor neighborhoods they live in.

“I think the reason is the environment where the Somali child is being raised. He grows up in the worst poverty-ridden neighborhoods of Toronto,” Hashi said. He said the neighborhoods where Somali youth live lack investments and good schools.

Because of these challenges, some students drop out of school and fall in with drug dealers and gangs, Hashi said.

Canada, parents blamed

Panelist Sheikh Saeed Rageah, a religious scholar and Imam, said the education system in Canada has failed Somali youth, calling the schools “systematic racism.”

“The education system in this country was designed to segregate us. When the Somali-Muslim child joins the school, he or she is labeled as a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), which deprives them their rights for a fair teaching and homework support,” Rageah said.

However, Saeed Mohamed Mohamud, a parent representative on the panel, said blame belonged not with Canada’s education system but with parents.

“Whatever it is, I think the system in this country was not designed for Somalis. It has been the same since we came here. But I would put the primary blame on a bad parenting of many members within the community,” Mohamud said. “I am a parent. I always see young boys who went to school in the morning, and when they come out hanging out the streets of Toronto with their backpacks. Where are the parents of these boys?”

Some family members had questions for Toronto police, saying many of the homicide cases of slain Somalis remain unsolved.

Toronto police officials said about 40 percent of gang shootings in the city occur in the Toronto neighborhood where Somalis reside.

“We have issues with regards to gang members, drug trade, poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of recreational facilities, inadequate … housing. We have issues with families themselves and the culture that is brought into the community,” Toronto police Superintendent Mario Di Tommaso told VOA.

Di Tommaso said the gangs in Toronto, including those within the Somali community, are based on race, gender and ethnicity.

Community involvement

He said the Toronto police have spent resources to investigate the gang-related shootings and homicides, but he said some blame lies within the community and its lack of reporting such activity.

“We will have many situations where the community at large, not necessarily the Somali community, will make observations, will witnesses something, and they are reluctant to call the police,” Di Tommaso said. “When that happens, you have a proliferation of crimes within that community, which breeds fear.

“We need more witnesses from the community so that we can advance to our investigations,” he added.

At least one parent, Mohamud agreed to a point. He said the community was not happy with how the police and law enforcement agencies handled cases involving the Somali youth, saying, “We have a right that government investigates and tells us who killed our kids, but we also need to collaborate with the law enforcement agencies as well.”

Abdirahman Yabarow, chief of VOA’s Somali Service, said the forum was designed to give the Somali-Canadian community a chance to explore, brainstorm and find solutions behind the violence that is affecting their youth.

At the conclusion of the two-hour discussion, panelists proposed an organization aimed at gathering and making available resources for the community. They also urged those in the audience to unite against the influences that are pushing the Somali youth to drug- and gang-related crimes.

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