A Senate committee wants to require police forces across Canada to track the number of members of racial minorities who undergo random roadside tests for alcohol under new legislation that will crack down on impaired driving.
In a unanimous vote, the Senate committee on legal affairs proposed to amend Bill C-46 to find out whether it will result in “differential treatment of any particular group based on a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
The proposed legislation will vastly increase police powers in dealing with impaired driving, creating new drug-impaired offences and facilitating testing for alcohol. In particular, police would now have the authority to compel drivers to undergo alcohol testing even without reasonable grounds to suspect they are drunk.
The version of Bill C-46 that was adopted by the House of Commons already included a mandatory review of its overall impact after three years. However, the Senate committee added a specific disposition to the review to monitor its effects on racial minorities.
The amendment was supported by independent as well as Conservative senators on the committee, which suggests it has strong chances of being officially adopted when the bill comes to a final vote in the Senate next month. To be part of the law, it would also have to be adopted by the House.
“We heard from police forces that they do not engage in racial profiling and they don’t intend to monitor the matter. Let’s just say this was a cause for great concern,” independent senator André Pratte said. “With this amendment, we wanted to ensure that there will be a follow-up on this issue.”
Conservative senator Claude Carignan said the amendment will help to ensure that mandatory roadside tests will not affect some groups of Canadians disproportionately.
“If racial profiling is no longer a problem, that would be great. But I think it’s wishful thinking to believe it no longer exists,” Mr. Carignan said.
In recent months, a number of witnesses told the Senate committee on legal affairs they were worried that Bill C-46 would exacerbate existing problems among marginalized groups and members of racial minorities.
“When you set up a random breath test at Jane and Finch in Toronto, in parts of Winnipeg and Vancouver, in the Muslim neighbourhoods of Maple [Ont.], and in ethnic neighbourhoods in Halifax, it will feel to all those residents as if the police are targeting them because of the colour of their skin, the language they use or the religion they share. It means a proliferation of racial profiling,” said Michael Bryant, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Lawyer Josephine de Whytell, who spoke on behalf of the Indigenous Bar Association, predicted the legislation would “cause further harm to the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the police.”
The Ottawa Police Service has kept data on racial profiling in recent years, finding out that black drivers as well as those of Middle Eastern descent were much more likely to be stopped than other residents of the city.
“I do want to point out that over 81,000 traffic stops were examined by our researchers for that two-year period, and there was a disproportionately high incidence of traffic stops for some of our racialized communities,” said Laurie Fenton, who oversaw the research for the Ottawa Police Service.
Mr. Carignan, along with Conservative senators and the chair of the legal affairs committee, Serge Joyal, also won majority support for an amendment to remove the power of police to conduct random roadside tests for alcohol in Bill C-46. Mr. Carignan said the new power is unconstitutional, rejecting the federal government’s arguments that the measure has reduced instances of drunk driving in countries around the world.
“Those countries don’t have our Charter [of Rights and Freedoms]. In our case, this will not survive a court challenge,” he said.
However, that amendment was not supported by members of the Independent Senators Group, which represents a majority of senators and could defeat the amendment at third reading.