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Race, police stops, and perceptions of anti-Black police discrimination in Toronto, Canada over a quarter century

Scot Wortley (Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah (Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 18 May 2022

Issue publication date: 22 July 2022

878

Abstract

Purpose

Black Canadians have a historically tenuous relationship with the police. Negative perceptions of the police held by Black people have traditionally resulted from high levels of police contact and perceived negative treatment during these encounters. Well-publicized instances of police violence involving Black civilians have also fostered hostility and mistrust of the police, often resulting in social unrest. Recently, in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of American police, people across Canada rallied in support of the Black Lives Matter social movement and calls to defund the police entered mainstream political consciousness. At the same time, police leaders have vehemently argued that racial bias within Canadian policing has been greatly reduced as the result of various reform efforts.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper explores the police racism debate in Canada through an analysis of three waves of survey data collected between 1994 and 2019.

Findings

Despite well-publicized reform efforts, the authors' findings demonstrate that little has changed over the past 25 years. Black people still report much higher rates of police stop and search activity than people from other racial backgrounds. Furthermore, racial disparities in negative police contact remain strongly significant after controlling for other theoretically relevant factors, including self-reported deviance and community crime levels. Finally, reflecting their negative experiences, most Black people still perceive Canadian law enforcement as racially biased. Nonetheless, the data do reveal one significant change: the proportion of white people who perceive police discrimination against Black people has increased dramatically over this same time period. The paper concludes by discussing the prospects of meaningful reform in light of the current findings.

Originality/value

This paper contributes to the literature on race and policing through an examination of 25 years of survey data across three waves of collection.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Funding: Funding for the survey’s utilized in this research was provided by the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.

Citation

Wortley, S. and Owusu-Bempah, A. (2022), "Race, police stops, and perceptions of anti-Black police discrimination in Toronto, Canada over a quarter century", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 45 No. 4, pp. 570-585. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-11-2021-0157

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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