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Student law project aims to keep police accountable

Racial profiling is based on stereotypes and should have no place in policing, says Nicole Myers, a third-year law student at the University of Windsor.

BY CLAUDIO D’ANDREA | SEP 12 2011

Ms. Myers was the student director this past academic year of the Law Enforcement Accountability Project, or LEAP, a student-led research and policy institute launched in 2009 in the law faculty.

Law professor David Tanovich, LEAP’s academic director and an expert in racial profiling, says students conduct research for policy development in areas of police accountability, with a particular focus on racial profiling and complaints. LEAP, he says, aims to work with police in a cooperative and constructive fashion.

It’s a challenging mandate, considering some recent high-profile cases. The Ottawa Police Service, for example, was rocked with controversy in 2008 when a young woman, Stacy Bonds, accused the police of racial motivation for her charge and arrest over a liquor offence. She is suing the service because of her rough treatment and strip search, which was recorded on video. Separately, just this past May, a Quebec public commission released a report calling for sweeping changes in the justice and education systems to eliminate racial profiling.

LEAP has already made significant inroads in enhancing police accountability, says Dr. Tanovich. It has partnered with the Ottawa Police to write racial profiling policy and recommendations for training. It also prepared a report for the Windsor Police Service on best practices for enhancing the recruitment of a diverse police force. LEAP students prepared a freedom-of-information request on behalf of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association regarding the police services involved in the G20 Summit in Toronto in June 2010. And this summer, LEAP started research on migrant workers and temporary foreign workers in Windsor and Essex County to determine issues that affect those communities.

“Certainly the experience of Ottawa, the experience of Windsor, has been very positive,” says Dr. Tanovich. “[It] leaves me hopeful that we can in fact effect this kind of change, and probably more effectively than through litigation, which focuses on one case, one instant, as opposed to systemic change.”

LEAP’s research, available online, includes a database of important cases, litigation briefs, anti-racial profiling policies, best-practices reports and student papers.

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