Journalist and Human Rights Advocate



Carding of black student at uOttawa should never have happened, the Ottawa Citizen

The video of a young, black University of Ottawa student being harassed and carded by campus security last week was described as stunning by one Ottawa news media outlet. If anyone is stunned by what was a clear act of anti-black racism against Jamal Boyce, then they clearly haven’t been paying attention to what has been going on in our city.

The reality is that many within our institutions have failed to adequately address the racism and discrimination that far too many Ottawans experience on a regular basis. It is only because Boyce was able to film part of his interactions with campus security that we are having this wider conversation about how minority communities are treated.

First, the issue of carding must be confronted as part of the larger phenomenon of over-policing racialized people. Carding is the practice whereby law enforcement agents randomly stop individuals and request their identification. Although stricter rules around police practice were put into place in 2017, fears of discrimination persist. Boyce was carded by campus security and when he said he did not have his identification, police were called and he was detained for two hours.

Jamal Boyce was carded by campus security and when he said he did not have his identification, police were called and he was detained for two hours.

“I was forced to sit on the busiest campus road in handcuffs for 2 hours. This was humiliating and messed up experience. @uOttawa security used their authority to harass and demean me. Is this how students will be continued to be treated on campus @uOttawa?” he tweeted later.

Late last year, Ontario Justice Michael Tulloch released a report concluding that these random stops serve little purpose and in fact fray trust between the public and police.  The University of Ottawa has had a policy around carding at least since 1992 and a review is overdue. University of Ottawa law Prof. Amir Attaran revealed last week that he had lodged a complaint against the practice after he and a student were carded in 2017.

Justice Michael Tulloch released myriad recommendations on how to enhance oversight of policing in the province. He raised serious concerns about carding. FRANK GUNN / THE CANADIAN PRESS

That same year, a report on anti-black racism in Ottawa concluded that our city’s institutions are “insufficiently responsive to Black community concerns. Denial of anti-Black racism affects people’s ability to trust certain institutions, such as police and the justice system.” This was based on a forum that brought together more than 300 people to talk about systemic racism in public institutions and throughout our communities.

Another report, this time by the Outreach Liaison Team, formed by the Ottawa Police Service in 2016 following the horrific death of Abdirahman Abdi, concluded that there “is a lack of acknowledgement of racism and racial profiling concerns that affect all institutions including policing.” Prior to that report, a study had already found that black and Middle Eastern men and women were many times more likely to be stopped by police while driving than were other drivers, even though they had done nothing wrong.

Beyond the issue of racial profiling, people of African origins experience marginalization and unequal treatment in our country. This was the conclusion of a United Nations Working Group that toured Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Halifax in 2016. “(T)he Working Group is deeply concerned by the structural racism that lies at the core of many Canadian institutions and the systemic anti-Black racism that continues to have a negative impact on the human rights situation of African Canadians,” says its report.

Boyce is an accomplished black student with a 9.0 CPGA, who serves as the vice-president of Academic and University Affairs for the Conflict Studies and Human Rights Students’ Association. Under no circumstances should he have been racially profiled simply for skateboarding on a bright, sunny day on the campus he attends. How many others like him are daily subjected to such humiliations and abuse?

It’s time for the City of Ottawa to designate resources towards addressing anti-black racism. Our city’s first and only black municipal councillor, Rawlson King, has called for a dedicated secretariat, similar to the one established in Toronto and which is responsible for implementing an action plan against anti-black racism.

Every Ottawan with a conscience should join that call and demand municipal councillors do the same.

Amira Elghawaby