The Link Between Racism and Police Education - Preet Randhawa
Surprisingly, cases involving police misconduct due to racism have been recognized by the courts for decades. Police negligence, tunnel vision, false charges, and racial profiling have caused courts to consider racism-related issues in cases. However, racism is one of the leading factors in many police charges and investigations. There are many cases and various literature which show us that significant changes are necessary to address racial bias in policing since these issues are ongoing and cause psychological harm and stigma, fear, and mistrust of police. Thus far, the police system in Canada has not made significant progress in addressing these issues. However, tremendous amount of work still needs to be done to make police services better so these issues do not affect innocent, racialized people.
Nevertheless, these issues are continuously showing up, even in new cases, clearly showing a lack of police knowledge, understanding and accountability. Is it police officers who should be considered at fault, or is it a lack of proper policing and knowledge of societal issues in policing? The lack of police knowledge on these issues shows that police training and academic hiring requirements need to change.
Higher education to eliminate racism issues in policing:
Racial profiling is a huge issue among police, and it is crucial to note that it harms people psychologically. An individual facing police charges or arrest due to racial profiling could cause unbearable trauma. Unfortunately, people from many communities, such as Indigenous, Arabs, Muslims and Black people, face racial profiling, which negatively impacts them and violates their human rights. However, this is an ongoing issue in policing, and serious measures such as re-evaluating police training and education requirements must be considered to make police more effective and eliminate racial profiling issues. Racial profiling is a serious issue since it has been recognized in many cases and in literature. A recent Ontario Human Rights Commission report titled “Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling” found that police stop, search and arrest black people without legal basis, and unlawful police activities lead to criminal charges and convictions.
In the case of R v Sitladeen, police charged a black male. The Court evaluated racial profiling based on police officers’ conscious or unconscious racist attitudes. There are many cases where the Courts showed linkages between police signalling out suspects based on race leading to racial profiling. R v Le is a critical case where the Supreme Court of Canada evaluated that members of racialized communities perceive police differently and “[i]t takes into consideration the larger, historic and social context of race relations between the police and the various racial groups and individuals in our society. The reasonable person in Mr. Le’s shoes is presumed to be aware of this broader racial context.” Cases such as these demonstrate that police lack an understanding on diverse people and how the officers behave differently with racialized individuals. Racial profiling is becoming a serious issue in policing, so it is crucial to educate police officers more about racism and discrimination.
Police education requirements should change entirely since higher education can bring more knowledge, skills, and awareness of social issues and diversity. Many European countries are aiming to change the negative perception of police officers and they have started by modifying the education requirements for police officers. Other important factors to consider why policing needs higher education is so the officers may understand issues such as mental health, behaviour and cultural, and how these factors link to crimes. Police are not entirely equipped to deal with these issues since a few months of training is not enough to grasp these societal issues. Universities should be encouraged to implement a degree program in policing. The program should provide courses related to psychology, criminology, political science and mental health, and connect them to the justice system. Having these subjects included in policing education would make a difference in how police may approach racialized individuals.
In the case of R v Marshall, the police investigation directed by the Sergeant of Detectives, John Maclntyre, shows that his investigation was impacted by racism. However, it has been over four decades since the justice system found links between racism and unlawful sentence in this case. But the legal system has not made enough progress to address racism issues. Since police are generally the first legal body people encounter in criminal charges or legal issues, it is important for police to understand the cultural component. A higher education can fill the gap on cultural incompetency in police officers. The case of R v Sharma involves the Court considering Indigenous peoples’ unique circumstances and cultural background and how those play a role in pleading guilty and sentencing. This case also shows us that the police need a better understanding on the diverse community’s cultural backgrounds. Having proper cultural knowledge could help equip police officers to be more mindful of their own biases, whether those be conscious or unconscious. In the case of R v Grant, Justice Binnie considered that "visible minorities may, because of their background and experience, feel especially unable to disregard police directions, and feel that assertion of their right to walk away will itself be taken as evasive.” Similar to the other cases discussed, R v Grant also exemplifies a need to provide cultural competency through education to police officers.
Ultimately, it is necessary to make changes in the education recruitment requirements for police officers due to the legal system facing ongoing issues with police charges related to racism. Higher education within the police can lead to positive outcomes and eliminate the negative impact policing can have on diverse people. When higher education requirements to becoming a police officer are considered as a critical aspect for recruitment, it can help to resolve the current societal issues, as seen in the cases discussed. Also, higher education can lead police officers to understanding the psychological harms of racism, gain knowledge on conscious and unconscious racial bias, and ultimately understand how cultural components shape people’s thinking and behaviour. Therefore, a higher education requirement such as a degree created specifically for police officers, should be considered moving forward so that we are able to make positive changes and prepare officers to tackle new issues and crimes in society.
 Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Under suspicion: Concerns about racial profiling by police” (2017), online: <https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/under-suspicion-concerns-about-racial-profiling-police> [perma.cc/2LSJ-CGQT].  Annamaria Enenajor & Harsi Mann, “Submissions of Canadian Race Relations Foundation in relation to the consultation on a Criminal Case Review Commission for Canada” (July 30, 2021), online (pdf): <www.crrffcrr.ca/images/CRRF_Criminal_Case_Review_2021/Submissions_of_Canadian_Race_Relations_Foundation_FINAL_EN.pdf > [perma.cc/2XQT-96SG].  R v Sitladeen, 2021 ONCA 303 at para 78.  R v Le, 2019 SCC 34 at para 75.  Ibid at page 552.  “Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr., Prosecution” (December 1989), online (pdf): <https://novascotia.ca/just/marshall_inquiry/_docs/Royal%20Commission%20on%20the%20Donald%20Marshall%20Jr%20Prosecution_findings.pdf> [perma.cc/PK2X-C8HC] at 3.  Andrea S. Anderson, “THE SILENT INJUSTICE IN WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS IN CANADA: IS RACE A FACTOR IN CONVICTING THE INNOCENT?” (Graduate Program in Law, York University, 2011) [unpublished] at 4.  R v Sharma, 2022 SCC 39 at paras 131-134.  R v Grant, 2009 SCC 33 at para 72.
The views and opinions expressed in the blogs are the views of their authors, and do not represent the views of the Faculty of Law, or the University of Manitoba. Academic Members of the University of Manitoba are entitled to academic freedom in the context of a respectful working and learning environment.