Advertisement

Black, Middle Eastern people again more likely to face Ottawa police force: report

Ottawa police say they used force against 284 people in 2022. Within that group, 70 people were seen by police as Black and 28 as Middle Eastern. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Ottawa police say they used force against 284 people in 2022. Within that group, 70 people were seen by police as Black and 28 as Middle Eastern. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press - image credit)

UPDATE | Chief Eric Stubbs said before Monday afternoon's Ottawa Police Services Board meeting that there are "complex reasons" why officers might use force. He said Ottawa police are investing resources to provide more transparent data and to work "more strategically" to build relationships with diverse communities.

Black and Middle Eastern people were again disproportionately likely to be subjected to force from Ottawa Police Service (OPS) officers in 2022, according to a new report.

The report to the Ottawa Police Services Board on Monday draws from the paperwork officers are required to file when they display or use force.

It found officers did so against 284 people in 2022.

Seventy of them, or roughly a quarter, were seen by police as Black. The report notes Black people — approximately eight per cent of Ottawa's population in the 2021 census — were "over-represented at 3.1 times their share" in the use-of-force numbers.

Officers most commonly used force against Black people when they were responding to calls about weapons, which the report said made up 23 per cent of all situations where Black people were subjected to force.

Despite Middle Eastern people only making up six per cent of Ottawa's population in 2021, they comprised 10 per cent of use-of-force reports, with 28 people from that background subjected to force in 2022.

This table from the Ottawa Police Service's report on the use of force by its officers breaks down the percentages of use-of-force incidents by race from 2020 through 2022.
This table from the Ottawa Police Service's report on the use of force by its officers breaks down the percentages of use-of-force incidents by race from 2020 through 2022.

This table from the Ottawa Police Service's report on the use of force by its officers breaks down use-of-force incidents by race. Officers choose a race from seven options: these six, plus 'Latino.' (Ottawa Police Service)

Since Ottawa police began collecting race-based data in 2020, the numbers have shown that officers have been more likely to use force against some groups than others, including people perceived to be Black, Middle Eastern or Indigenous.

Indigenous people were not over-represented in the 2022 data, the latest report notes — a change from the two previous years.

Overall incidents down

Overall, the report says the percentage of use of force incidents with "racialized subjects" had dropped from 48 per cent in 2020 and 2021 to 42 per cent in 2022.

"We must recognize the value of the police force to keep us safe," said César Ndema-Moussa, president of advocacy group Roots and Culture Canada.

"But we cannot deny — and the report itself recognizes — that there is a strong disproportionality [in who is subjected to force]."

César Ndéma-Moussa said hate crimes have become part of Ottawa's reality today.
César Ndéma-Moussa said hate crimes have become part of Ottawa's reality today.

It's impossible to deny the disproportionate way police are applying force, said local advocate César Ndema-Moussa. (Simon Gohier/CBC)

The report explains that police in Ontario are required to submit a use-of-force report to Ontario's solicitor general in several circumstances, including whenever they point a firearm at someone, shoot a firearm or injure someone in a way that requires medical attention.

The guidelines for its use are in the Police Services Act. Some of those instances are also examined by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

The type of force Ottawa officers used in 2022 mostly involved drawing, displaying or pointing a firearm or a Taser, the report said. Other examples were using pepper spray. batons, hitting with an empty hand and using a police dog.

It also noted one specific incident from June 2022 when three officers fired their handguns while responding to a stabbing in progress.

This was the only time officers used fatal force, it noted. Those three officers were cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the SIU.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit is investigating a police shooting involving Ottawa officers that left a 21-year-old man dead and a 19-year-old woman injured. Police were called to Anoka Street around 10:30 p.m. on June 27 following a stabbing that left two others dead.
Ontario's Special Investigations Unit is investigating a police shooting involving Ottawa officers that left a 21-year-old man dead and a 19-year-old woman injured. Police were called to Anoka Street around 10:30 p.m. on June 27 following a stabbing that left two others dead.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit investigates after Ottawa police shot and killed a man who stabbed two women to death on Anoka Street in 2022. The SIU ultimately ruled that the use of force in that case was justified. (Stu Mills/CBC)

'Vast majority' of calls resolved without force

The report also said 99.9 per cent of calls for service are "resolved with officer presence and communication."

When officers did use force, "almost 60 per cent were resolved with only the display of force, rather than its application."

"This demonstrates that officers are effectively responding, with minimum forceful intervention, the vast majority of incidents to which they respond," the report said.

Future reports will include analysis of ages and genders, it said.  It recommends a discussion of "accountability measures" for officers involved in incidents where excessive force is used.

The findings suggest officers need to receive better training and the city needs to make communities more safe, said Irvin Waller, an emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa.

"We need to get at the risk factors that contribute to the violence that the police are reacting to," he said.