The agency that investigates serious incidents involving police in Alberta says it is unclear what would be gained if it tracked data on the race of people killed or injured by officers, arguing such statistics would do nothing to address systemic racism.
Susan Hughson, the executive director of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT), also said the team’s mandate is limited. Its job is to investigate to a criminal standard whether a police officer injured or killed a person, or participated in other forms of misconduct, and if so, whether the actions were lawful or constituted a crime.
ASIRT’s position runs counter to police watchdogs in Ontario and British Columbia, which shifted their approaches as critics argued that without such data, it is impossible to figure out whether police are more likely to victimize people of colour than white citizens. RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, and Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, the commanding officer of the Alberta RCMP, on June 12 said systemic racism exists in policing in Canada, reversing statements they made days earlier after an Indigenous chief in Alberta accused officers of brutality.
Ms. Hughson said in a statement that her agency has never identified a “principled reason” to collect and release racial information.
“One has to ask whether keeping ‘stats’ or data is really a step in the meaningful engagement with our Indigenous or visible minority communities,” Ms. Hughson’s statement said. “Does it really accomplish anything to identify and combat systemic racism? ASIRT tries to recognize and respect all cultures, races and ethnicity.”
Collecting accurate data, she noted, can be tricky. Victims who are deceased cannot self-identify, and it would be racist to make assumptions; and privacy concerns over race and religion may thwart efforts to ask about a person’s background, she said by way of examples. ASIRT collects racial information if it believes it is pertinent to the investigation.
Further, noting a victim’s race can be misleading, Ms. Hughson said.
“It does not answer the more important question, ‘why.’ It seems to suggest cause and effect. It could lead one to infer anything from systemic racism played a part in any particular incident, to systemic racism is providing carte blanche for murder,” her statement said.
Kim Stanton, a constitutional and Aboriginal law lawyer at Goldblatt Partners LLP, noted that racial data can help identify discrimination, establish patterns, and measure the severity of misconduct or failings.
“RCMP and other police forces used to not gather any data on [missing, murdered Indigenous women and girls] either and that obscured the number of Indigenous women and girls who were being murdered and disappeared,” she said in a statement. “Collection of race-based data is an important way to identify systemic issues in our society and to increase police transparency and accountability.”
Chief Allan Adam, the leader of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, recently accused RCMP in Fort McMurray of beating him and accosting his wife in March. ASIRT said it would investigate the allegations after Mr. Adam recounted the altercation to The Globe and Mail and released blurry bystander videos that captured the takedown. Police shot and killed two Indigenous people – Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi – in separate incidents in New Brunswick this month. The Globe last year reported that more than one-third of the people shot and killed by the RCMP between 2007 and 2017 were Indigenous.
Marches against racism and police brutality continue to sweep Canada, ranging from demonstrations with thousands of people in cities such as Toronto and Calgary to just dozens of protesters in small centres like Kimberley, B.C. The rallies started in the United States after George Floyd, a Black man, died when an officer pinned him to the ground by placing his knee on the arrested man’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Naomi Sayers, an Indigenous lawyer who focuses on human rights, said it should be up to affected communities to decide whether racial data should be collected. By not collecting data and reporting on how certain groups are affected by police violence, organizations like ASIRT are not tracking the outcomes of some interactions with law enforcement.
“They are actively involved in the erasure of those interactions,” she said.
With a report from Mike Hager in Vancouver
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