"The colour of justice in Canada is White." That blunt reckoning opens Windsor Law professor David M. Tanovich's groundbreaking 2006 book, The Colour of Justice: Policing Race in Canada. In his professional and academic life, Tanovich is a leader among Canadian lawyers, legal scholars and activists in bringing the issue of racial profiling to the forefront of the debate over access to justice in the Canadian legal system.
Racial profiling in policing occurs when an officer uses, consciously or unconsciously, race or stereotypes associated with race and criminality or dangerousness, to any degree, in deciding whom to investigate (i.e. suspect selection) or what investigative measures should be taken once the individual is detained (i.e. suspect treatment).
"I think [racial profiling] is so deeply engrained because of the failure of most police forces to recognize its unconscious nature. The police are no different from all of us who often make quick and generalized judgments about people based on how they look” says Tanovich. Moreover, racial profiling is perpetuated by media treatment of crime (e.g. highlighting cases involving racialized suspects or more often displaying a picture of a racialized suspect) as well as criminal intelligence briefs that often link particular racialized groups with certain offences.
As an appellate lawyer in Toronto, Tanovich argued nearly 100 cases before the Supreme Court of Canada and the Ontario Court of Appeal, including the very first appellate case involving racial profiling in 1999.
Frustrated with the failure of lawyers to recognize or argue the existence of racial profiling in some of its highest profile cases, Tanovich decided to give up his professional practice and shift his energies toward full-time teaching and research. The hope, he says, is that he can train the next generation of criminal and social justice lawyers to recognize how race and other biases such as gender pervade the criminal justice system and how to ensure that they are addressed.
Tanovich has been teaching Criminal Law and Evidence at Windsor Law since 2003. In 2008, he created the first racial profiling law school course in Canada.
Inspired by the level of professionalism and talent of his students, Tanovich decided to do something never before attempted at a Canadian law school: create a student-led research institute on police accountability.
The Law Enforcement Accountability Project (LEAP) officially launched in 2009. During the 2009-2010 academic year, LEAP had over 48 student researchers and engaged in several ambitious projects: