Black Student Racially Profiled During Academic Conference in Canada

A Black graduate student from Canada said he was racially profiled while attending a conference at the University of British Columbia on June 2.Shelby McPhee told CBC news that he was attending a conference held by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences 2019 Congress at the university. McPhee told The Chronicle Herald he had noticed a man and a woman sitting at a table across from him while he and his white colleague were working on presentations. Later that day, McPhee and his colleague were leaving campus when he heard the woman that sat across from them say “the two guys who sat next to us are walking past us again,” according to the publication.

As McPhee and his colleague walked away, they saw the man following them and taking photos.When McPhee confronted the man to ask what the problem was, the man said he recognized McPhee’s white colleague, but not McPhee. McPhee, a master’s student in the political science department, said he was holding his conference registration kit, but noted that his white colleague was not. “I told him it’s none of his concern whether I’m registered for the conference, and that he should be asking the person who didn’t have any registration material in his hand,” McPhee told the publication.

A woman came over to the men and told McPhee that their laptop had gone missing, The Chronicle Herald reported. McPhee asked the woman if she was accusing him of stealing the laptop, and the woman asked if he was registered for the conference. She told McPhee that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and campus security were on the way, according to the publication.

“Had both of us been accused... we would have just said no,” McPhee told the outlet. “But this became more than an accusation when I was the one who was singled out, out of many different people.” RCMP spoke with McPhee but did not search his belongings, although McPhee said officials could search his bags, according to The Chronicle Herald. The graduate student said the whole incident was embarrassing. In a statement posted to Twitter, the Black Canadian Studies Association (BSCA) said that the Federation did not issue a response after the incident and will not do so until after an investigation, which could take up to three weeks. McPhee is a member of BSCA.

“Our association boasts a majority Black membership and we take the safety of our members extremely seriously. Encounters with the police are extremely unsettling and frankly, unsafe, for people of African descent, given the strained history between these two groups,” the association wrote. “This incident is making us rethink our participation in Congress and our relationship with the Federation. We do not want to be a part of an event and Federation that does not value the safety and well-being of our members.” Anthony Morgan, a human rights lawyer and community advocate in Canada, told The North Star that the Federation can make systemic shifts to make sure they are genuinely a healthier space for students. “It offers a useful example as to why the conversations around anti-Blackness in Canada remains important,” said Morgan.

“In these spaces, you have people who are of a higher level of consciousness--understanding issues of race, racial profiling and experiences in exclusion and marginalization in Black people. This very gathering that brings people together exposes [how] Canada functions more broadly. It ends up being a microcosm of an articulation of the Black experience in Canada.”

Morgan stated that the country often experiences Canadian racial exceptionalism, which means that the country itself does not have a problem with race and sees it as an American issue. The lawyer stated that this represents “a false notion of racial harmony.”

The Federation issued an apology on June 5 and said it is willing to work with BCSA about the incident. It also stated that the Federation’s code of conduct “does not tolerate anti-Black racism, harassment or discrimination of Congress participants in any form.”

“The Federation is treating this incident very seriously as it unequivocally opposes and denounces anti-Black racism, racial profiling, harassment and discrimination of any kind,” the statement read. “Upon receiving this complaint, the Federation contacted the complainant and invited him to meet with the Federation as soon as possible. The following day, senior leaders of the Federation met with the complainant, who was accompanied by two executive members of... BCSA. Since then, the Federation has continued to be in communication with the complainant and will continue to do so.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.