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Reviewed by:
  • The Colour of Justice: Policing Race in Canada
  • Paul Millar, Ph. D.
David M. Tanovich . The Colour of Justice: Policing Race in Canada. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2006, 280 p.

At last a book that deals with one of the most important questions about the justice system in Canada: in what way does the law differentially impact racialized Canadians? This book does much more than that: it offers concrete insights into the processes that lead to highly different outcomes for non-White Canadians. Practical as well as theoretically contextualized, it illustrates, with many case examples, how subtleties of surveillance interact with the moral panics around (or "wars on") the social problems of our time: drugs, gangs and terrorism. This book would be a welcome addition to the libraries of social science academics, lawyers and law professors with an interest in human rights and the law. The book would also make appropriate course material for courses examining human rights and the law, law and society and (one dares to dream) courses for those intending to enter the field of law enforcement. [End Page 152]

The book starts out by providing a much needed definition of racial profiling which highlights the role of stereotypes and unconscious profiling in systemically producing racist outcomes. As the author rightly points out, it is difficult to deal with racism if no consistent definition exists. When it comes to cases where citizens have experienced unwarranted differential treatment by race (or other such category) overt direct racism is rarely in operation, yet it this overt racism that is generally assumed as a definition when dealing with complaints against the police. The process of racialized surveillance is illustrated with several "driving while Black" cases from Ontario and Nova Scotia, including one where the victims were Black police officers.

The author gives a valid critique of the practice of profiling, which produces many false positives, some profiles being so general to be of little use except to allow police to stop virtually whomever they choose. He also does a good job of reviewing Canada's shamefully racist legal history and of how statistics of over-representation of racialized Canadians in the justice system are used not to raise concerns about racial profiling but instead to argue that these populations have a greater tendency to criminal acts.

The author shows how the current law enforcement preoccupation with gangs is painted non-White by both police training and information circulars as well as media coverage even though the majority of gang members are white. Worse, by differentially targeting by race instead of behaviour, the police are alienating large sections of racialized communities, making police work more difficult in the long run. The "war on terrorism" (I can't bring myself to call it the war on terror) has engendered an entire new class of social villains—Arabs and Muslims.

Consequently this new group is targeted by racial and religious profiling which Tanovich illustrates with (already) several cases. Leaving no doubt as to the existence of (conscious or not) racial profiling and systemic racism in police and intelligence work, the author turns to what, at first, seems the daunting task of dealing with these issues when before the courts. The author presents simple and, it appears, effective techniques for demonstrating the presence of racial profiling, especially when it involves that ubiquitous tool of police, the pretext traffic arrest (pulling a motorist over has been deemed an "arrest" for the purposes of the Charter). These mainly derive from the question: was this arrest precipitated by behaviour, as opposed to a racialized appearance or other characteristic not relevant to criminality? If not, then the arrest was probably a pretext for heightened police surveillance, often triggered by profiling. This portion of the book is a handy checklist for human rights lawyers or researchers interested in studying pretext vehicle stops. It identifies the main things to look for to see if the arrest is warranted or if it was being conducted for some other purpose. A number of wrongful convictions where race was a factor are recounted in the book in order to show the detrimental aspects of race-based profiling. The author proposes a detailed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0227
Print ISSN
0829-3201
Pages
pp. 152-154
Launched on MUSE
2008-07-17
Open Access
No
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