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Racial Profiling at Borders Conference, Surrey, Canada

14 May 2008 at 06:05 | 2519 views

Summary by Mary Joan Ayoub

After a nice welcome by Dr. Robert Adamoski, the Associate Vice President of Research and dean of Social Sciences at Kwantlen University College, seven professors and one lecturer discussed about “Racial Profiling at Borders” at a conference held at Kwantlen University College in Surrey, BC. Dr. Charles Quist-Adade(photo), a professor at Kwantlen University College, discussed about many interesting examples and made it clear that race is a concept invented by human beings for it is neither biological nor natural. The White “race” is white for they produced more vitamin D in order to absorb as much sunlight as possible.

The Black “race” is Black for they produced more melatonin in order for their skin to avoid burning from the sun. Sam Migliore, also a professor at Kwantlen University College, presented many stories from the past including stories about the War Measures act in Canada in the Canadian-Italians’ point of view, and compared these stories to the problems we face today at the border to prove that many societies do not learn from its past. It is important to learn from one’s past to facilitate positive progress for not just one’s, but any society.

Progress can come in many forms and Mr. Anthony Glambedakis, from the University of Western Sydney, lectured about a few profiling methods available for authorities as progressive options to use. A state can use biometric methods, the “Passenger Name Record” (PNR), and/or the Registered Traveller Programme. Biometric information such as facial recognition and fingerprints can be found in a chip placed in a person’s passport book. The “Passenger Name Record” (PNR) may be another method, but it can lead to access privacy issues and access control problems. The Registered Traveller Programme is another popular method which is known to be less intrusive.

Profiling is a growing area and its main purpose should be to be less intrusive. Then again, many believe any form of profiling, especially when used at borders, can be considered as intrusive for it can interfere with the movement of a society’s population which in turn benefits those part of the higher class. Dr. Jeffrey Shantz, a professor at Kwantlen University College, opposes “Racial Profiling in Fortress North America.” According to Dr. Jeffrey Shantz, border control determines the movement of the working class and oppressed groups. When studying how our border is linked to security certificates, to arbitrary arrests, to the zero tolerance level used, to the immigration act, and to other harsh rules, we notice how our border is metaphorically like a prison. It is mostly a prison for the working class and not for global academics.

When there are tighter borders, the state creates a culture of insecurity, crisis and fear. The rules that are now making it more difficult to cross the border have returned us to the time when there was an underground railway. For example, many American soldiers who oppose the Iraqi war and those who try to avoid deployment flee The United States of America and go to Canada. Many American people in the United States offer their homes as “safe houses” for resisters as they make their way to the Canadian border.

This action is illegal in the United States. The issue with Racial Profiling is not just that it excludes many people, but that it includes people without many accesses, and without certain rights. Many of these new-comers deal with racist policing; and have bad housing (where their living rights make their lives less pleasurable especially since the new tenant act makes the eviction process easier for landlords). And when the media focuses on the need for “better” border control, it shifts focus away from the real issues. We can stop this exploitation through solidarity such as what the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) organization encourages. Opposed to what the American media illustrates to us, presenter Anthony Cortese, a professor at the Southern Methodist University, informs us only twenty percent of the American population are “anti-immigrants.”

After learning the above, Professor Anthony Cortese further discusses what the current law says about racial profiling. On June 17, 2003, the department of Justice (in the U.S. of America) noted that Racial Profiling is wrong and will not be tolerated.

“This administration... has been opposed to racial profiling and has done more to indicate its opposition than ever in history. The President said it’s wrong and we’ll end it in America, and I subscribe to that. Using race... as a proxy for potential criminal behavior is unconstitutional, and it undermines law enforcement by undermining the confidence that people can have in law enforcement.” —Attorney General John Ashcroft, Feb. 28, 2002

Although law enforcement allows race as a determining factor, current federal law prohibits Racial Profiling, but that does not mean it does not happen. Professor Jessie Horner (Kwantlen University College) used the 2002 Mr. Richard Kelly case as an example to prove how our government makes it easier for racial profiling to be present (even though it is illegal). It is easier for a customs officer than a police officer to detain someone based on race, for a police officer needs articulate cause to keep someone in custody. A broader example of how newcomers enter another country while avoiding racial profiling was given by both Dr. Hisham Ramadan (professor at Kwantlen University College) and Professor M. Ali. Khan (professor at Washburn Law School).

Dr. Hisham Ramadan discussed about the Islamic state and its role when dealing with zhimmis (also referred to as dhimmis). Zhimmis are non-Muslims who enter an Islamic state. These newcomers are referred to as the people of the covenant and have special rights. Muslims in an Islamic state understand that they must have some understanding with non-Muslims. Zhimmis have the right to drink alcohol and consume pork. Moreover, for every citizen to be equal, it is important to maintain human dignity and therefore Muslims are not allowed to shoot at the face of an enemy. Additionally, peace must be the norm.

Dr. Hisham Ramadan explained that the Koran teaches us that once we start distinguishing people’s faces, discrimination will follow, therefore, all are from one soul. Under the Islamic Law, it is every person’s human right not to be homeless, but must follow the law of the land. Professor M. Ali. Khan reminds us, on the other hand, that if we take an “Islamic state” like Pakistan into consideration and notice how many events happen there which in turn are actually against the ideal Islamic Law, is Pakistan therefore an Islamic state? If a Muslim man said a Christian man blasphemed against the Prophet Mohammed and killed him, while the Christian man was innocent, what could have led this to happen? Professor M. Ali.

Khan says that if this happened in Pakistan one must look back at the countries history. Historically most Christians were inferior and part of the lower class (the “untouchables”). Therefore, when referring to a story like this, one can understand that a Christian in Pakistan may be killed because of his inferiority and not just because of his blaspheming. Similarly, Racial Profiling fails to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty (within a group as well). When a Profile gives some or many negatives about a group, it may lack evidence.

This conference began with the assumption and strong belief that Racial Profiling does exist. Hence, how can it be stopped or better replaced? Professor Michael Kilburn from Endicott College reminds us that Racial Profiling “begins at home.” Human Rights also begins at home. Racial Profiling is a violation of civil rights and it should also be a violation of human rights. It violates the democratic contract as well and thus the community exceedingly loses more faith in the government. Professor Michael Kilburn, like Professor Sam Migliore, reminds us that we should learn from the past and move on positively. In order to cure our relationship with our government and make our society better, Professor Michael Kilburn says we should pay attention to how the methods of data are collected. We should focus on human dignity, focus on substantial not just procedural rights, and we should focus on changing the law not just looking for a remedy. If we do not fight for better solutions, we will simply be a society that went from allowing “Driving While Black” to allowing “Flying while Arab.”
- Mary Joan Ayoub

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