In a number of these cases, the racist attitude of the police is clearly evident. The major difference between this earlier period and the 1970s is that racism on the part of the police became a public issue. People were becoming more critical of the police and public interest groups were strongly vocalizing their dissatisfactions.
Public complaints resulted in a series of studies on racism in Toronto (1977, 1979), Ontario (1989), Halifax (1991), Manitoba and Alberta (1991). The Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Jr. Prosecution and similar investigations have also addressed this issue (McIntyre 648-652; Wortley Civilian Governance 5-6). The Ontario Human Rights Commission in its examination of racial profiling lists nineteen (19) reports between 1975 and 2003 pertaining to racial profiling and relations with First Nations People. Nine of these reports concerned racial issues in Toronto, six reports focused on Ontario, and four reports were national in scope (Ontario Human Rights Commission).
The proliferation of studies on racism simply confirms what some scholars contend: "‘race' is a complex and variable historical construct" (Backhouse ix). Canadians have a tendency to view racism in simplistic terms - "First Nations or Aboriginal People," "visible minorities," "Asians" and "blacks." Culture is by no means a uniform concept. There are many differences among the various groups of First Nations people. Asian Canadians may face a different type of discrimination than people from First Nations groups (Chen, Palmer). Members of black communities may exhibit even further differences.
While differences exist among the many cultural groups residing in Canada, there are several common themes in the complaints directed at police forces. The perception exists that law enforcement is dominated by white male police officers who are culturally insensitive and have no understanding of the needs and circumstances of people from visible minorities who come into conflict with the law. As a result, members of racial minorities often believe they are mistreated in numerous ways. For example, they are inappropriately singled out for questioning if they are in close proximity to a crime scene. They are arrested as suspects more frequently than are white people. If they are convicted of a crime, their sentence is more severe than others who commit a comparable crime. A prison sentence confirms their views about discrimination when they see a disproportionate number of visible minorities represented in the prison population (Makin "Guard wins fight")
The "use of excessive force" can also be a complex, variable and somewhat elusive term. The most likely image fixed in the minds of the Canadian public is a group of police officers beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991. But excessive force might also include verbal abuse, racist remarks, threats and intimidation and other abuses of power. Phillip Stenning includes inappropriate high speed police chases and strip searches as types of excessive force (Stenning, ed. Police...and Human Rights). John Howard Societies in Alberta consider the use of Tasers by police forces and guards in penal institutions as "officially sanctioned excessive use of force".
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