Black youth more likely to be charged for minor offences


By Lincoln DePradine

Kanika Samuels-Wortley

Negatively bias treatment from service providers, including police officers and healthcare professionals, is an often repeated story from Blacks and other racial minorities in Canada. In some instances, the anecdotes are supported by research, investigations and studies.

Information just released from one of the latest studies, conducted by Kanika Samuels-Wortley of the University of Waterloo, indicates that young Black people are more likely to be charged for certain minor criminal offences than are White and other youth of colour.

Samuels-Wortley, a PhD candidate in criminology, notes that her findings are in keeping with similar studies that suggest that “race has a small but significant effect on police decisions’’.

The Samuels-Wortley research finding, published last month in the journal “Race and Justice’’, was conducted while she worked for Durham Regional Police Service as a youth diversion coordinator.

It involved a study of nearly 6,500 police cases between 2007 and 2013, examining differences in how a young person was treated on a first offence for simple drug possession or minor theft charges — the two most common offences faced by Canadian youth.

The data reveals that young Canadians, who are not Black, are more likely to be cautioned and not charged.

“Overall,’’ said Samuels-Wortley, “these findings are consistent with previous research which suggests that Black males are treated more harshly with respect to North America’s War on Drugs.’’

Dave Selby, a spokesperson for Durham police, said that the service embraces the research by Samuels-Wortley and it’s “passionate about fairness, diversity and equity’’.

The Toronto Star, in an investigative report in 2017, found that African-Canadians with no history of criminal convictions were three times more likely to be arrested by Toronto police for possession of small quantities of ganja than were White people with similar backgrounds.

In the case of Durham Regional Police, Selby said the service has been investing in “bias-free policing’’ for frontline officers.

“We continue to provide additional training and educational opportunities,’’ he said. “Everyone has biases, including police officers; so, it’s important to discuss this openly and to focus our coaching, mentoring and training efforts to recognize and eliminate any biases we uncover.”