Terrorism can be fought without racial profiling - the Little-Known Story of the “Saudi Suspect”

By David Langtry

As published in the Globe and Mail, April 29, 2013.

In the chaotic minutes after two bombs tore through the crowd near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, racial discrimination turned a terror victim into a terror suspect.

As a shocked world watched, media reported that a young Saudi man had been apprehended.

He had been watching the race and was badly hurt by the first bomb. CBS News said a bystander saw him running and tackled him. People thought he looked suspicious.

While doctors treated him in hospital, his apartment was searched and his roommate interrogated. His name was endlessly tweeted. Media dubbed him the Saudi suspect.

The next day, authorities cleared him. Wrong place, wrong time, said CNN.

Yes, it was wrong. Racial profiling is wrong. And it's also bad policing.

Research supports this. There is no evidence that racial profiling helps identify terrorists. What can be proven, is that profiling creates distrust and resentment among members of ethnic or religious communities. It leads them to believe they are unfairly targeted by law enforcement.

Public trust is critical to combating criminal activity. We all have a civic duty to report crime, but in practice, when trust is absent, people may fear the consequences of coming forward.

Hence my praise of how the RCMP handled the announcement of the arrest of two Muslim men allegedly connected to a plot to bomb a Toronto-New York train. The RCMP clearly invested care and thought in managing the impact of the news on Canada's Muslim communities. As reported in this newspaper last week, this approach has been years in the making.

The RCMP went out of their way to credit a Toronto imam for information leading to the arrests, and invited community leaders to a private briefing before breaking the news. One leader, Muhammad Robert Heft, told the Canadian Press that the briefing sent a signal: police are not targeting Muslims.

It's not clear all Canadian police understand the work needed to build trust. Facts can help. Paradoxically, one important set of facts requires the collection of racial data. It may sound discriminatory, but it's actually the best way to ensure police are operating without racial bias.

Starting this summer, Ottawa will be the first major Canadian city to do just that. Ottawa police will start collecting statistics on the race of people involved in traffic stops. This approach owes much to the experience of the Kingston police force, the first in Canada to record racial information.

Collecting racial data can show whether racial profiling is taking place. Kingston police found that it was. In some instances, officers' prejudices were getting in the way of the job. This enabled them to take corrective measures.

What's more, Kingston police learned they need to be wary of the prejudices of people who report crimes. This is precisely what happened to the young man from Saudi Arabia. Wounded, scared, running for his life, a bystander accused him of wrongdoing because of how he looked.

Regardless of the fact that he was cleared (and to be fair, Boston law enforcement had no option but to question him once he was turned in), false news about the Saudi man's alleged involvement continues to circulate on the internet and in social media. Because of racial discrimination, the name of an innocent man will forever be linked to this horrific, senseless act.

Some believe this kind of injustice is unavoidable. They argue that public security and human rights are often at odds, and that in some cases we may have to give up one to have the other.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission disagrees, and so does the Supreme Court of Canada. As Justices Iacobucci and Arbour wrote in a 2004 decision, a response to terrorism within the rule of law preserves and enhances the cherished liberties that are essential to democracy.

Our democratic values define us. In times of panic and confusion we must be at our most vigilant in protecting them.

David Langtry is acting chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.


Aboriginal challenges - Room for optimism

By David Langtry

As published in the Regina Leader-Post, June 18, 2013 and the Edmonton Journal, June 20, 2013.

This week, the Canadian Human Rights Commission issued a report on the impact of persistent conditions of disadvantage on Aboriginal people in Canada.

Frankly, so much has been written on this subject that there’s little here that will come as a surprise. 

It is well known, for example, that disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal people live in poor quality housing, earn less than other Canadians, or are unemployed; that they are more likely to have suffered violence at the hands of others and less likely to trust the police; that they are over-represented in our prisons and once in, less likely to get parole. 

It’s a familiar, depressing picture, not something Canadians take pride in. Indeed, many of us have become cynical or indifferent. Yet I remain optimistic, because change is happening. 

I am aware that not everyone shares my optimism. I am aware that some new developments have stirred controversy. But the desire for change is undeniable, and it’s happening now. 

It’s happening in the courts, where First Nations and Métis have won landmark victories that have potential to accelerate economic self-sufficiency. 

It’s happening at the level of the federal government, which has given an important boost to accountability and transparency of governing institutions, in part by extending the Canadian Human Rights Act to all First Nations.

It’s happening on the ground, as First Nations take advantage of newly minted laws to take control of their resources and finances and create opportunity within their communities as never before. 

Some First Nations are gaining access to low-cost, long-term financing for major infrastructure projects by issuing bonds, in the same way municipalities raise capital. As reported recently in Maclean’s, the prospering First Nation community of Membertou, N.S. (it boasts one of the lowest on-reserve unemployment rates in Canada) hopes to spur further growth this way. Close to 100 First Nations are working with the First Nations Finance Authority to access capital on the international bond market. 

The Framework Agreement on First Nations Land Management is another example. Over 80 communities have taken steps to implement land governance, assume jurisdiction over reserve lands and resources, and opt out of some 30 land‐related sections of the Indian Act. 

Chief Austin Bear, Chair of the First Nations Land Management Resource Centre, calls the agreement “a catalyst to economic self‐sufficiency” and reports an influx of First Nations members returning to their communities, enticed by the new opportunities it has given rise to. 

There are so many examples of this forward-looking approach that one scholar, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s Ken Coates, has called it an “unsung, quiet revolution.”

In a report recently released by the Institute, Coates paints an upbeat picture of prospects for Aboriginal economic improvement, citing success stories of Aboriginal entrepreneurship and new models of collaborative development. “(F)ar from being a vain and pious hope,” he writes,  â€œsuch models are already emerging.” 

Education stands out as one of the most intractable barriers to opportunity. Our record is not good. Canadian governments inflicted decades of trauma through the residential schools program, under which tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and shipped off to desolate Victorian barracks to have their indigenous identities beaten out of them. The pain is our legacy too. It will take generations to undo.

“Education got us into this mess,” says Chief Wilton Littlechild, a survivor of residential schools and today a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “and education will get us out of it.” 

The time to act is now. Aboriginal children are the fastest growing population in Canada. Yet on reserves, fewer than 50% finish high school. Nearly half of all Canadian children in foster care are Aboriginal. How many of them will finish high school? 

I commend the federal government’s commitment to work with First Nations to create the First Nations Education Act.  I am hopeful this will bear fruit. But let’s improve child welfare services on reserves so that families get the support they need and fewer children end up in care.  

I continue to hope that when the Canadian Human Rights Commission goes back to  take the pulse of Aboriginal people in Canada five, ten, or fifteen years from now, more of the positive impacts of the transformative change that is already occurring will be visible. 

Because failure is not an option.

David Langtry is Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission


Working differently, not less

By David Langtry

As published in the Ottawa Citizen, October 4, 2013 

A number of human rights cases are currently testing how far employers need to go to accommodate the needs of workers with family caregiving obligations. Until now, the debate has focused on parents with young children. 

But a recent ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, reported in the Citizen Thursday, has broadened the debate to include aging parents for the first time.

The case involves Leslie Hicks, an HRSDC employee, now retired. The tribunal’s ruling, and award of $35,000 in damages, boldly defines human rights law as protecting not just the needs of employees who care for children, but also those of employees who care for parents.

Some employers are worried. After all, many of us have children. And many of us have aging parents. Some fear that decisions in these cases could open the floodgates for requests for shift changes, leaves, temporary absences, and more. Not as a privilege, not as a reward for good work, but as a right.

Such fears are not warranted. First, people seeking accommodation are often among the hardest-working and most productive employees.

Second, a request for accommodation must be based on need, after all other reasonable options have been exhausted. It’s not an issue of entitlement. It’s about working differently, not working less.

Whatever the concerns of employers about new interpretations of the so-called family status right, and however the courts decide these matters, it won’t change what’s happening in millions of families. The pressures on workers to provide care for aging or disabled loved ones are mounting.

Statistics Canada reported last month that 8.1 million Canadians — about one in four — are providing care to a loved one with a long-term health condition, disability or problems associated with aging. Many of these caregivers are “sandwiched” between caring for a parent and caring for children.

Workers and their employers are feeling the impact. A recent C.D. Howe Institute study suggests that the overall rise in absenteeism is due in part to people calling in sick to take care of others.

As boomers age, the need for eldercare will obviously increase. StatsCan predicts the number of seniors who will need help or care will double in the first three decades of this century.

Numerous studies show that balancing home and work can be a major source of stress. Only by working together will employers and employees find effective solutions.

Employees seeking accommodation will need to be transparent with their employers, and be ready to explore a variety of caregiving options. Employers, for their part, will have to look at their HR policies and be open to flexible work arrangements.

The good news is that many employers are already doing this. According to the Conference Board of Canada, 78 per cent of organizations offer flexible work hours and more than half allow their employees to telecommute.

Canada needs to ensure that no person is prevented from making a productive contribution to society because family care-giving obligations get in the way. Job sharing, part-time work, shift changes, and leaves are among the options that should enable Canadians to continue to be productive, valuable employees while still meeting family responsibilities.

Of course, employers must look at each accommodation request individually. The type of industry, the nature of the job, the availability of technology, the associated costs, and other economic, logistical and scheduling challenges must also be considered.

But it’s worth the effort.

Employees prefer to work for organizations that support their needs. Studies show that companies that allow flexible work arrangements have been able to reduce absenteeism, foster employee loyalty, improve morale and retention, and increase productivity.

Our children need us, and often so do aging parents. Caring for their needs, is not just something we do out of love, duty, or obligation, it is also a right.

David Langtry is Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

35th My Canada includes everyone. | 35ième Mon Canada inclut tout le monde.