Nova Scotia’s independent police watchdog has confirmed it will investigate the recent arrest of a woman who says she was the victim of racial profiling.
The Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) said in a statement Tuesday that Santina Rao was injured during her arrest, which is the main reason the watchdog has opened an investigation.
The team’s mandate is to investigate police actions that may have led to serious injury or death, or where those actions may raise a significant public interest.
Ms. Rao, 23, was arrested while shopping at a Walmart in Halifax last week. A cellphone video of the incident shows officers wrestling her to the floor as she protests.
Ms. Rao has accused police of racial profiling, telling several media outlets that officers accused her of concealing items. She says she agreed to a search and even offered to show police her receipts.
Investigators are asking anyone who witnessed the incident to contact SIRT, which is required to file a public report about its investigation.
On Wednesday, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission issued a statement reminding retailers it is illegal to discriminate against individuals based on their skin colour under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act.
Commission spokesman Jeff Overmars said the release of the statement was not linked to Rao’s arrest.
“The commission has received a number of inquiries related to consumer racial profiling over the past several months,” Mr. Overmars said in an e-mail. “This is an ongoing trend reported regularly in the media and is preventable through education.”
The agency also took the opportunity to promote a free online course aimed at educating front-line service staff about how to prevent racial profiling, which it says more than 15,000 people have taken since 2017.
“Consumer racial profiling appears as a variety of behaviours targeting individuals who may be seen as a visible minority,” the agency’s statement said. “They include refusal of service, degrading comments, following in stores and searching without cause.”
In 2013, a commission survey of 1,200 Nova Scotians found members of visible-minority groups were three times more likely to be followed and four times more likely to be searched while shopping.
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