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An open letter to Marci Ien about racial profiling

This is an open letter to CTV’s award-winning broadcaster and talkshow host Marci Ien. It was written in response to her misleading claim that she was racially profiled by police. I’m not the author. It was posted to Craigslist Toronto yesterday and signed by Richard Huggins. This document is the first I’ve seen that truly conveys how much hurt and damage has been caused by Ms. Ien’s allegations.  Here is an excerpt:

Dear Marci Ien,

As a police officer who is mixed with Caribbean and European ancestry I’m curious to know what your opinion is on a “person of colour” (as you put it), who is also a police officer. Reading your account of what I considered to be a routine and frankly quite boring traffic stop (though having a door open on a car I was approaching may cause my heart to skip a beat); I was baffled as to how you were able to build this up into an issue of racism.

I was born in Toronto, and though life has pulled me away, my family still lives in Toronto and it will always be home. You’ve mentioned the “Black Community”, and I’m curious to know who exactly that community consists of. Does it include people with mixed ancestries? Blacks who are police officers? Is your Black community restricted to the confines of the Greater Toronto Area, or does it stretch coast to coast? If it includes all of these, I would like to know what your thoughts are on the many police officers “of colour” working in our diverse police agencies across the country. I can assure you, you do not speak for us, nor do you have the right to imply that you represent us. Police officers aside, I have spoken with many other people of colour who share the belief that you do not speak for them. So please stop. openmind_heather_mallick

I’m concerned about the possible damage your story has had on the youth and new immigrants to our country (who may be fleeing violence from police in their own countries), if your opinionated story is read as fact. Your position as a well-known journalist seems to have allowed your opinion to be taken as fact by many people. Your recent article presents a story through only one lens, and that is one of racism. As you are a journalist in this country I would argue you have a greater responsibility to present facts from multiple lenses. But perhaps journalism has changed in this country and it’s no longer required to thoroughly investigate a situation. Don’t get me wrong you are able to express your opinion, but as a journalist your delivery can play a crucial role on how it is received (as fact or opinion).

Some people think that because someone is the loudest, they must be correct. This is simply not true and can also lead to social injustices when people are judged too early without facts being uncovered. There are several “loud” people who are simply uneducated. Yet people seem to hear them more often because of how loud they shout their opinion. If you hear an uncontested opinion long enough it begins to sound like fact.

If your only tool is a hammer, it’s likely that you will view all your problems as nails. This is similar to looking at a situation through a “racism lens”. If you’re looking at a situation from the belief that it is stemmed by racism, then the result will be that you connect all your experiences in that situation to racism.

If you choose to educate yourself on policing in this country you’d find that the racism problem, which is so loudly spoken of, is not what you think. I’m hoping that this letter gives you, or anyone else who feels like reading it, a better understanding of your interaction.

Based on your article, it is clear to me that you are not educated on the roles and actions of police officers. This does not mean you yourself are not educated, but that your experience in situations like these is minimal or has been misunderstood because of the lens you are viewing it through. I don’t blame you for your lack of education in situations like these. I think many people have similar fears and misunderstandings around police operations. I know I did before I was a police officer. It came from a lack of education. Perhaps nobody is to blame for this or perhaps everyone is to blame. One could argue that our society takes minimal efforts to educate people on interacting with police. Others could argue that there is nothing stopping individuals from educating themselves on specific topics. I think it’s a mixture of both.

When I was briefly a School Liaison Officer, I developed a short program to deliver to high school students. I explained the various roles police had in a Canadian society and ways to interact with police so that the interaction was smooth for both parties. It was no surprise to me that a lot of the misconceptions students had around police came from movies, television shows and American news agencies. I can not stress enough that most movies and television shows depict an inaccurate account of policing.

We also do not have the same culture as the United States, but students would often quote American terminology or American stories for recent examples of police conflict. Again, it’s hard to fault the students for these beliefs. When lacking experience, many people seem to resort to what they’ve seen on television, when forming their beliefs. If we’re flooding our brains with Hollywood movies or the problems of another culture, it’s easy to get confused.

I would like to give some insight as to what may be going through a police officer’s head. Remember I cannot speak for all police officers. Each police officer is different with their own experiences, styles, strengths and weaknesses, but this may help with a broader view.

The most dangerous situation for a police officer to be in is while conducting a traffic stop. Most police calls involve someone giving the officers information on what they’re being called to, and who’s involved. This is often not the case for a traffic stop. Most of the time the license plates will match the vehicle and the driver will have a valid driver’s license and are able to provide their correct information (Routine Stop). However there are times when none of these add up and the officer is in danger. The officer does not know the stop is routine for certain until the interaction is finished.

Let’s look at your interaction…

Please follow this link to view the remainder of Richard Huggins’ letter. It is worth reading every word. One can only hope that Shree Paradkar, Heather Mallick, Scott Laurie and others who have condoned Ms. Ien’s attention-seeking behaviour will take the time to do so.

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