UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says structural racism and police violence must be addressed around the world

Published by Brent Patterson on

A Black Lives Matter protest in Edmonton, Alberta (Treaty 6 territory) on June 5, 2020. Photo by Jacqueline Biollo.

On June 3, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated: “The voices calling for an end to the killings of unarmed African Americans need to be heard. The voices calling for an end to police violence need to be heard. And the voices calling for an end to the endemic and structural racism that blights US society need to be heard.”

To read the Peace Brigades International-USA statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, please click here.

In her statement, Bachelet also acknowledged: “Structural racism and police violence are of course found across the world.”

Police violence in Ontario

The Ontario Human Rights Commission found that a Black person in Toronto is nearly 20 times more likely to be shot dead by the police than a white person.

While Black residents make up 8.8 per cent of the city’s population, the study found that they accounted for 60 per cent of deadly encounters with Toronto Police, and 70 per cent of fatal police shootings between 2013 and 2017.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was formed in 1990 in the province of Ontario as a civilian law enforcement agency that investigates incidents involving police officers where there has been death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault.

The SIU is currently investigating the police-related deaths of Black Ontarians Regis Korchinski-Paquet (in Toronto on May 27) and D’Andre Campbell (in Brampton, a city north of Toronto, on April 6). And yet it should be pointed out that in 2014-15, 94.9 per cent of the police officers investigated by SIU investigators, most of whom are white and former police officers themselves, were cleared.

Street checks in Montreal

In October 2019, a report commissioned by the City of Montreal found that between 2014 and 2017 Indigenous and Black people were 4 to 5 times more likely than white people to be stopped by the police for street checks (when the police stop people who have not necessarily committed an infraction).

Police shootings in British Columbia

The CBC has reported that with 98 deaths between 2000 and 2017, British Columbia has the highest per capita rate of police-involved fatalities in Canada.

It also found that the number of white victims was the highest number in police-related fatalities, but that Black and Indigenous victims were significantly over-represented given their low populations in Vancouver and BC.

Police violence and the incarceration of Indigenous peoples

The CBC News investigation also found that between 2000 and 2017, 699 police officers were involved in 460 fatal interactions with the public in Canada. The RCMP was responsible for the most (176) fatalities, followed by municipal forces in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. The vast majority of officers faced no charges.

It found that while Indigenous people make up 4.8 per cent of the population, they represent 15 per cent of the total fatalities involving police.

The Globe and Mail has also reported that, according to a federal government briefing note, the RCMP fatally shot 61 people across Canada between 2007 and 2017. The document says that 22 of those people were Indigenous. That’s 36 per cent of the total number killed despite Indigenous people making up about 5 per cent of the population.

Incarceration rates in Canada

Maclean’s magazine reported in February 2016: “In Canada, the Indigenous incarceration rate is 10 times higher than the non-Indigenous population – higher even than South Africa at the height of apartheid.”

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada recommended: “We call upon federal, provincial, and territorial governments to commit to eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody over the next decade, and to issue detailed annual reports that monitor and evaluate progress in doing so.”

Despite this, the rate of incarceration is increasing. In January 2020, the Correctional Investigator of Canada reported Indigenous people now account for 30 per cent of the federal inmate population, up 25 per cent from four years ago.

The militarization of the police in Canada

Concerns have also been raised about the increasing militarization of the police in Canada. University of Winnipeg Professor Kevin Walby and University of Manitoba law student Brendan Roziere have commented on this trend in their article: Rise of the SWAT team: Routine police work in Canada is now militarized.

They note: “Based on our research, we can see that militarization has been normalized within Canada’s largest police services. SWAT teams, once considered a last-resort option for police forces, are now being used in routine areas of policing.”

They further point out: “In 1980, the average yearly number of deployments for Canadian tactical units was about 60 total per unit. Our results show the average yearly number of deployments for Canadian tactical units is now approximately 1,300 per unit, an increase of roughly 2,100 per cent in 37 years.”

Calls to defund, disarm and abolish the police

In this CBC News interview author-activist Desmond Cole speaks about police violence, white supremacy, anti-Black racism and the colonial dispossession of Indigenous peoples in Canada. He highlights the need to disarm and defund the police and give the billions of dollars that are spent on them to communities for services, childcare, and food programs.

The Guardian recently reported on the call for defunding and noted a study that found that when the New York Police Department staged a slowdown in late 2014 and early 2015 and only performed its most essential duties, official statistics showed a significant drop in major crime for the period of the slowdown.

In this CTV News interview, Robyn Maynard, a Vanier scholar and the author of the book Policing Black Lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to the present, also explains the growing calls for the abolition of the police.

Other UN statements on structural racism and police use of force in Canada

In relation to statements from the United Nations, it should also be noted:

In September 2017, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent presented their report to the UN Human Rights Council. That report highlighted Canada’s history of slavery and the current problems of environmental racism, racial bias in the justice system, and higher rates of poverty for Black Canadians.

It also called on the Canadian government to apologize for slavery and to consider paying reparations. On June 2, The Globe and Mail reported: Trudeau won’t say whether Canada will apologize for history of slavery or pay reparations.

On December 13, 2019, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged Canada “to prohibit the use of lethal weapons, notably by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, against indigenous peoples” including Wet’suwet’en land defenders.

And yet on February 6, 2020, heavily armed RCMP officers launched a pre-dawn raid on Wet’suwet’en land defenders opposed to the construction of the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline on their territories.

Further reading

For more context, please see: PBI expressions of concern about police violence, the militarization of policing, and extra-judicial killings by the police (that references Kenya, Honduras, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala and Canada).

Categories: News Updates


Robert Wilde · June 6, 2020 at 5:27 pm

An apology for a transgression is no more than a ritualistic gesture that, more often than not, gets framed as the equivalent of substantive action. Action begets reaction: a smile begets a smile, fear begets more fear. This militarization of the police has at least two aspects: a deep-seated fear/mistrust of the citizenry; the age-old desire to maintain power/dominance. We have to dispense with idea there’s a path waiting to be found; we have to shoulder the tough work of making/creating a path… no other way.

ron ward · June 6, 2020 at 6:01 pm

While agreeing with most of the recommendations made here I would reject reparations for slavery.
The territory. now called Canada never relied upon or encouraged slavery. It only became a problem with the sudden import of UEL settlers from the new USA after 1778 and was restricted and abolished as quickly after that as legislatively possible. As a result Upper Canada was among the first jurisdictions in the world to forbid slavery. In fact, Canada became the only refuge for escaped slaves on the famous ‘underground rairoad’ and a variety of other encouraged means for over a half century until the US very reluctantly freed them after a civil war.
Unfortunately , for a variety of reasons including the affect of US attitudes and media, we have not fully accepted them and a variety of other identifiable minorities. We have again been leading the world in this regard in recent years but are far from perfect yet. For this malpractice we owe our black minorities the same abject public apology we have belatedly offered others while demanding corrective oversight actions, but not reparations for crimes we never initiated against any of their forbears.

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