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Toward Reconciliation

Survey indicates Indigenous people targeted by police in Prairie provinces

A Discourse Media/Maclean's survey of students about police checks builds the case for more transparent policing data in Canada.

Indigenous students are more likely to be stopped by police than non-Indigenous students, and staying away from illegal activity does not shield them from unwanted police attention, indicates a survey of over 850 students in Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg conducted by Discourse Media and Maclean’s.

The survey, conducted with financial support from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), found that among those surveyed, Indigenous students were 1.6 times more likely to be stopped by police (where all other explanatory variables — like age and gender — are fixed). These results provide quantitative evidence, where very little data exists, that isolated reports of racial profiling may be a common systemic issue.

Discourse worked with Nancy Macdonald, Maclean’s associate editor, as part of a whole-system investigation into disproportionate Indigenous incarceration rates.

The investigation probed why incarceration rates of Indigenous people continue to rise while Canada’s crime rate falls. Multiple Indigenous people have reported complaints about police brutality and racial profiling in the Prairies, but these claims are often dismissed as isolated incidents by police departments.

The Discourse/Maclean’s survey explored whether or not the experiences of Indigenous university students could shed light on whether racial profiling is a systemic issue.

“We sought data from police forces and federal agencies and were told again and again that racial data about policing is not collected or is inaccessible,” says Erin Millar, Discourse co-founder and CEO and CJFE Bob Carty Fellow. “Our research fills a gaping hole in data available to the public about racial profiling. These results make a strong case for more transparency.”

After consulting social scientists who have studied racial profiling and filing Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for racial policing data in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina, Vancouver and Saskatoon, Discourse was unable to obtain any relevant data.

“An incredible amount of information and knowledge in the public interest of all Canadians is going unreported today because of a lack of access,” said CJFE executive director Tom Henheffer. “This work represents an important step to changing the status quo and helping to amplify the voice of people too often left out of mainstream public discourse.”

This investigation is part of a bigger project at Discourse exploring how journalism can support reconciliation. The project aims to contribute to a fundamental shift in how Canadians think about and discuss difficult issues such as reconciliation, colonial history and land rights in order to move our country towards solutions.

For more information about the survey analysis and methodology, read the technical brief.

 

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