HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Black Passengers Targeted In Pearson Searches?
Source: Toronto Star (Canada)
Copyright: 1998, The Toronto Star
Pubdate: Sun, 29 Nov 1998
Pages: A1, A9
Author: Royson James, Toronto Star City Columnist


Lawyers plan court fight over `racial profiling' by customs officials at

A survey of Air Canada flights from Jamaica to Toronto reveals that black
passengers are far more likely than white travellers to be searched by
Canada Customs.

More than half - 56 per cent - the blacks on the eight flights surveyed were
searched by customs officials, while only 10 per cent of the whites were
searched. In fact, more than two in three whites were simply waved through,
without even being questioned, the survey found.

``You stand there at the airport and watch it and it's heart-rending,'' said
lawyer Donald McLeod, whose firm spearheaded the project that saw 408
passengers interviewed as they emerged from customs.

``It's incredible. We are not in an apartheid state. We are not in a
segregated society. You see this and it's so blatant,'' said McLeod, who saw
passengers fill out questionnaires supplied by the African Canadian Legal

As flights come in from Jamaica, white passengers are the first to clear
customs and within 40 minutes they are usually all gone. But it is often two
hours before the last black passengers are allowed to go through, ``like
they are second-class citizens,'' McLeod said.

The survey results are expected to be introduced in a Brampton court
tomorrow Monday by lawyers defending an Ottawa man who was charged with
importing 710 grams of marijuana from Jamaica.

McLeod says his law firm, Hinkson & Sachak, will argue that the Charter
rights of blacks are being systematically violated by the practice of
``racial profiling'' by customs officials.

Michel Cleroux, spokesperson for Canada Customs, categorically denied any
race-based profiling at the airport.

Passengers ``may be referred to more intense examination based on responses
they give to initial questions and intelligence given by other law
enforcement officials.

But they are never subjected to inspection on basis of race, colour, sex or
creed,'' he said.

The findings, which he called ``horrible and odious,'' might have been based
on a statistically invalid survey, he said. He estimated that 2,400 people
could have been on the eight flights, if they were full, and the
questionnaires were completed by only 408 passengers.

``Until we know whether or not the survey is valid, we ask that the customs
officers be given the presumption of innocence,'' Cleroux said.

Scott Wortley, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, says the
airport findings reflect what other studies have shown in other areas of

``There's an over-surveillance of the black community,'' said Wortley, who
has analyzed the results of the survey. ``We've found that if you are black
and you do something wrong, you are more likely to get caught than people in
the white community.

``This has a wide impact, especially for discretionary crimes, like drug
use, where police have to go looking for the stuff.''

Some 205 blacks, 189 whites, and seven Asians flying out of Montego Bay and
Kingston, Jamaica, filled out questionnaires during June, October and
November. The eight flights were on Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday. Seven
respondents did not indicate their race.

Assuming the sample was random, there is less than a 5 per cent chance that
the differences observed between the way blacks and white were treated was
due to a sampling error, Wortley said.

Even when the findings are adjusted for age, employment, gender and other
factors such as whether the passenger was a tourist or a Jamaican native,
blacks were still eight times more likely to have their luggage searched, an
analysis of the findings shows.

McLeod said Hinkson & Sachak had the survey done to see if they could prove
what black clients have been telling them for years. He added the firm plans
to take the issue to the Supreme Court, if necessary, to put it on the
national agenda.

``Now we are able to quantify what blacks have been saying for years. . . .
There is some kind of systemic bias here. And if this systemic bias is being
talked about when they are training (immigration) officials in school, then
it's systemic; it comes from the top down.

``The numbers are incredible. This sort of bias, we can't tolerate,'' McLeod

Officials at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, who helped plan and conduct
the survey, said the results show that race is the most important factor
determining why a traveller is stopped.

``There is pervasive and prevalent race profiling at the airport,'' said
Margaret Parsons, executive director of the clinic. ``People of African
descent are targeted more closely, they are looked at more closely. The
study shows that race is the one constant, the biggest factor.''

She said if the Brampton case gets appealed to a higher court, the clinic
``may consider intervening'' so it can have standing and present arguments
to the court.

Wortley has been involved in a number of studies measuring how Toronto's
various communities are monitored and policed - the last one as a researcher
for the 1996 Commission on Systemic Racism in Ontario's Criminal Justice

That commission found that although there is no evidence that black people
are more likely to use drugs than others, or that they are over-represented
among those who profit most from drug use, blacks are the most likely to
wind up in jail.

``Intensive policing of low-income areas in which black people live produces
arrests of a large and disproportionate number of black male street
dealers,'' the report said. ``Once the police have done this work, the
practices and decisions of crown prosecutors, justices of the peace and
judges operate as a conveyor belt to prison.''

Of those convicted of similar drug charges, for example, 55 per cent of
blacks and 36 per cent of whites go to jail, the report said.

About 66 per cent of the blacks convicted of drug trafficking were
imprisoned, compared with 36 per cent of whites. Simple possession of drugs
reflected the same statistics: 49 per cent of the black offenders were sent
to prison compared to 18 per cent of white offenders.

If police or custom officials create a profile that black people need to be
watched more closely or searched more often, they'll find what they are
looking for, Wortley said.

For example, if an airplane has an equal number of black and white
passengers and an equal number of blacks and whites carry narcotics in their
luggage, but immigration officials believe it is black passengers who are
carrying drugs, it is blacks who will get searched.

The search will naturally turn up more drugs among blacks than whites. Then
the officials will look at the results and say they are justified in
conducting those selective searches.

``It's the same on the streets where police target a particular
neighbourhood or community,'' Wortley said. ``This kind of cycle has a
profound impact on who's in our jails. If you are black and sell drugs, your
chances of getting caught and being jailed are higher.''

McLeod said such bias becomes a Charter issue, not because some people are
getting away with crimes while others are caught, but because one group is
targeted unjustly.

McLeod said he will argue there is ingrained, long-standing systemic racism
that violates the Charter rights of blacks travelling into Toronto.

The problem is so pervasive that black travellers have come to accept it as
the norm, he said.

``The white travellers who were searched were often angry and irate,''
McLeod said. But most blacks just shrugged. ``We have rights and these
rights don't all of a sudden vanish just the time you say you're a black
person coming in from Montego Bay.''

Officials have a right to search air travellers. They can target a
particular flight, bring in sniffing dogs and search bags on the tarmac, but
they must be fair to everybody, he said.

Immigration officials must have a ``reasonable suspicion'' to suppose a
person is carrying drugs. But the airport survey raises an important
question concerning black passengers from Jamaica: ``Is it a reasonable
suspicion or is a racial suspicion?''

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Checked-by: Don Beck