Fine line between descriptions and racial profiling

Editor, Evan Matthews. / LAURA KEIL

by EVAN MATTHEWS, editor

Last week was busy for Robson Valley RCMP.

A man was accused of approaching teens in Valemount online, and asking them to meet in person.

Another man in McBride was driving erratically through town, and later robbed a home’s weapon cache.

Both were dangerous situations.

Nobody was hurt, so thank you to the RCMP for doing an amazing job.

But in both cases, the description of these men given to the Goat was vague – and problematic.

The description given to police was that the man was “Middle Eastern” in appearance.

On social media, locals made comments about “deporting the predator” and how people “saw the man in the turban walking toward a motel.”

These are troubling assumptions.

Deportation? Whoever jumps to that conclusion is making a massive assumption based on appearance. Just because he has brown skin, a beard and a turban doesn’t mean he isn’t Canadian. Also, the turban isn’t one commonly seen in the Middle East, but rather a Sikh turban, more commonly worn in India.

While approaching teens online is not condonable or normal behaviour, this man hasn’t yet broken the law. While it’s likely his intentions were not of a positive nature, he’s an alleged predator at worst.

Saying, “I saw the man in the turban walking toward a motel,” is a dangerous statement. Mob mentalities can be a scary thing when people are afraid.

Did you see the suspicious man walking toward the motel? Or did you see another man, similar in appearance, walking toward the motel? It’s common to see truck drivers on the frontage road wearing turbans.

In the McBride instance, and in RCMP’s statement to media, police were looking for two other men involved who are described as “First Nations in appearance and in their 20s.”

If the only two confirmed details are the person’s (general) age and ethnicity, why bother to share? Also, it’s impossible to “know” someone’s ethnicity by their appearance.

While police are looking for men who may fit the description, so is everyone else, and many 20-year-old indigenous men in the region are subject to unfair suspicion and scrutiny.

The description doesn’t get anyone closer to actually identifying the suspects.

I understand the value of descriptions and key features, and in these scary instances every detail counts.

But people tend to be afraid of “different,” and our world is unfortunately not free of racism and discrimination.