Social Profiling, Homelessness, and Policing in Canada

Social profiling expands the scope of policing activities through the construction and application of broad profiles. Such actions have an impact on homeless people regardless of gender, cultural group, or ethnic background. Use of the term “ethnic profiling” enables the understanding of social sorting based on cultural and linguistic characteristics rather than on perceived physical differences. Social profiling in relationship to homelessness has not been extensively examined in Canada. Interviews were conducted with twenty-nine people living with homelessness in northern Ontario, Canada who reported interactions with police. A social profiling lens was used to guide the analysis of descriptions of harassment and abuse; ethnic or racial profiling was treated as a subtheme within the larger category of social profiling. Participants described six subthemes relating to social profiling tactics: physical abuse, psychological abuse, provocation, general abuses of power and control, ethnic/racial profiling, and outcomes or effects. Social profiling was a more relevant concept than racial profiling as all homeless participants (including Anglophones and Francophones) were targeted by police and subjected to difficult or abusive treatment. Women reported the same types of interactions as men, including physically abusive treatment. Findings are discussed with reference to human rights legislation in Canada.

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The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Civic and Political Studies