In the first racial-profiling study ever undertaken by a Canadian police force, a University of Toronto criminologist has found that black motorists and pedestrians in Kingston are almost four times more likely than Caucasians to be stopped and questioned by officers on patrol.
The perception of unequal treatment, however, does not seem to apply to all racial minorities in the mostly white city of 115,000. Commissioned by Police Chief William Closs, the year-long study found that while 1.4 aboriginals were stopped for each white person, the percentage of Asians and South Asians was lower than among whites.
Study author Professor Scot Wortley praised Chief Closs for the controversial initiative, whose results were released yesterday.
But the data should just be a beginning in efforts to alter perceptions of police discrimination, he said.
"I think this is something that has to go on, on an ongoing basis, much like it is in Great Britain," Prof. Wortley told CBC News.
After the results were unveiled, an emotional Chief Closs apologized to the city's black population.
For years, British and U.S. police have routinely crunched race-related statistics.
Their Canadian counterparts, however, have generally resisted gathering such numbers.
York Regional Police Sergeant Chris Bullen, president of the Toronto-based Association of Black Law Enforcers, praised the findings.
"This whole research is just the beginning of what I think should be something national because the community keeps telling us something is happening," he said.
But Bruce Miller of the Police Association of Ontario, which represents all police unions in the province save that of Toronto, was unimpressed, contending that if officers begin "second-guessing" their actions and instincts, public safety could be compromised.
"Certainly we're committed to excellence and working to overcome perceptions that problems exist. But it would concern us if there was a recommendation that all police services in Ontario start collecting these sorts of statistics, and fill out forms based on who they stop."
The study was in large part prompted by an incident in March, 2003, involving two black Kingston teenagers. Mark Wallen and Adrian Parkes, then aged 19 and 17 respectively, were handcuffed and searched as they walked home from basketball practice. Neither was ever charged with a crime.
At a disciplinary hearing last year, the adjudicator concluded that because the teens were observed peering through the windows of parked cars, the arresting officers had grounds to be suspicious.
The arrests and accompanying accusations of police racism nonetheless touched a nerve. And while Chief Closs rejected the allegations, he said earlier this year that "too often our citizens believe that police run a closed shop and are resistant to change and unfavourable yet constructive criticism."
So for a year, starting in October, 2003, Kingston police were instructed to record the race and ethnicity of every citizen with whom they dealt in a non-casual way.
More than 10,000 incidents were analyzed -- roughly 60 per officer. About two-thirds involved pedestrians, and one-third motorists.
Six racial categories were listed on the contact cards: white, black, Asian, South Asian, aboriginal or "other." Blacks, who comprise less than 1 per cent of Kingston's population, were 3.7 times more likely than whites to be stopped and questioned, the study found.
But while Asians and South Asians comprise 2.5 and 1.3 per cent of Kingston's population, according to 2001 census figures, they only accounted for 1 per cent and 0.9 per cent of the police checks.