Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Obscurantism in Action: How the Ontario Human Rights Commission Frames Racial Profiling

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Obscurantism in Action: How the Ontario Human Rights Commission Frames Racial Profiling

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT/RESUME

The phenomenon of racial profiling in Ontario has long been acknowledged by members of racialized communities, progressive activists, and others--but official acknowledgment was always withheld. This changed in late 2003 when the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) produced a report stating in no uncertain terms that the practice of racial profiling is an extant reality. Notwithstanding the virtues of this departure from past patterns of official denial, a critical reading of the OHRC report reveals key areas in which the motivations, scope, and effects of profiling are fundamentally misunderstood. More specifically, the report frames racial profiling as (1) security-centred, (2) ubiquitous, and (3) dysfunctional. This article critically interrogates these three frameworks, and in the process, elucidates the limitations of state-driven "anti-racism" initiatives in Canada.

Bien que les membres des communautes ethniques et les activistes progressistes, entre autres, reconnaissent l'existence du phenomene du profilage ethnique en Ontario depuis longtemps, il n'y a aucune reconnaissance officielle. Fin 2003, la Commission ontarienne des droits de la personne met fin a ceci et publie un rapport affirmant de facon nonequivoque que la pratique du profilage ethnique est en fait realite. Cet eloignement du dementi officiel habituel est bienvenu bien qu'une etude critique du rapport de la commission revele certains domaines oh les causes, l'etendue et les consequences du profilage ethnique sont fondamentalement mal comprises. Le rapport affirme notamment que le profilage ethnique est (1) axe sur la securite, (2) onmipresent et (3) dysfonctionnel. Cet article etudie et remet en question ces trois caracteristiques tout en expliquant les limites des initiatives "anti-raciales" au Canada.

INTRODUCTION

In December 2003 the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) (1) released a report entitled Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling, which featured the following statement: "It is the Commission's view that the evidence of the existence of racial profiling is incontrovertible" (69). Consequently, this report, in addition to an October 2002 series on racial profiling published in the Toronto Star (Canada's largest daily newspaper) was--and is--regarded by many observers as a significant advance for those committed to situating racial profiling on the public agenda. From this perspective, marginalized communities with an extensive history of being dismissed as delusional or disingenuous for raising the subject of racial profiling finally saw their subordinate claims validated by an agency of the superordinate provincial government. Lividity grounded in lived experiences of unjust treatment was granted official recognition--Paying the Price included numerous excerpts from submissions provided by victims of racial profiling--thereby buttressing the public image of the OHRC as a firm ally, and even a protector, of groups whose membership in Canadian society is perhaps more nominal than substantive.

From a more critical perspective, however, state-driven initiatives of this sort do not necessarily constitute an unmitigated good: "while some official recognition that racism persists is obviously valuable, that acknowledgment is hardly unalloyed. Worse, it has the perverse effect of removing anti-racist social agency from the realm of civil society, from the control of racially identified minority subjects, and vesting that agency in the state itself" (Winant 2001, 286). One need not be an unreconstructed vulgar Marxist to suggest, quite unremarkably, that insofar as the state operates in politically expedient ways, refrains from calling the basic organization of society into question, and constantly re-inscribes hegemonic understandings of racism, a certain measure of caution is justifiable in response to instances when state functionaries declare their intent to address an issue such as racial profiling. …

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