Moving Beyond 'Driving While Black in Canada': Race, Suspect Description and Selection

(2005) 36:2 Ottawa Law Review 315-348

34 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2005 Last revised: 8 Feb 2016

See all articles by David M Tanovich

David M Tanovich

University of Windsor - Faculty of Law


The issue of racial profiling has finally begun to attract the attention of the Canadian media; courts; human rights commission; the Canadian Bar Association; and, the academy. The focus has been on racial profiling defined as the use of racialized stereotypes of the usual suspect as the basis for suspect selection. Less attention,however, has been given to cases where race forms part of the description of a suspect provided by the victim or witness. Through the use of narrative, the article examines how race-based suspect descriptions have been misused by the police in Canada. The narratives also reveal the devastating collateral damage when the police use race in any manner in suspect selection. This damage includes widespread harassment, intimidation, false arrests, violence, death, stigmatization and an engendering of mistrust. Given the misuse, the article recommends including suspect descriptions in the racial profiling prohibition where race is used as the dominant characteristic. After considering whether there should be a complete prohibition on using race in suspect descriptions, the article examines current constitutional standards to protect against misuse and proposes a new dominant feature constitutional test.

Keywords: Race, Suspect Descriptions, Racial Profiling, Canada

JEL Classification: J71, K14

Suggested Citation

Tanovich, David M, Moving Beyond 'Driving While Black in Canada': Race, Suspect Description and Selection. (2005) 36:2 Ottawa Law Review 315-348. Available at SSRN:

David M Tanovich (Contact Author)

University of Windsor - Faculty of Law ( email )

401 Sunset Avenue
Windsor, Ontario N9B 3P4
519-253-3000 (ext. 2966) (Phone)


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