Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on persistent issues of systemic racism within RCMP in CBC News article

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was recently featured in a CBC News article titled RCMP’s diversity hiring remains stagnant, new figures show by Catharine Tunney. The article opens with an overview of the lack of diversity in RCMP hiring practices over the last decade. In reference to the statistics provided by the RCMP, Professor Owusu-Bempah criticized their use of “visible minority” to collapse all non-white, non-Indigenous Mounties into one category. He explained that this racist practice makes tracking how representative the RCMP is of the communities they serve impossible.

Professor Owusu-Bempah also noted that while making the RCMP representative of the populace is important for changing attitudes and behaviors within the ranks over time, the issues around systemic racism in policing institutions cannot be resolved by simply making the ranks less white. One such issue mentioned in the article by Professor Owusu-Bempah was that of ongoing harassment and discrimination of RCMP members by other Mounties, and he argued that this problem could only be resolved by holding the individuals responsible at every level of the institution.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the U of T Mississauga campus. He frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets on topics related to his research focus: the intersection of race, policing and justice.

We’ve included an excerpt to the article below. Read the full article at CBC News here.

RCMP’s diversity hiring remains stagnant, new figures show

Updated statistics come as the national police force grapples with systemic racism

The head of the RCMP has promised to “double down” on efforts to boost diversity among its officers — but newly available statistics show those efforts haven’t borne fruit over the past decade.

The recently released diversity statistics come as the national police force grapples with a fierce debate over systemic racism in the ranks and claims that it polices racialized Canadians differently.

As of April 1, 2020, just under 12 per cent of the RCMP’s 20,000 rank-and-file members identify as visible minority, according to figures posted online late last week. That figure hasn’t changed dramatically over the past few years and remained lower than the general rate in the workforce nationwide.

The percentage of regular RCMP members who self-identified as Indigenous remains higher than the Indigenous share of the wider workforce, but that number has decreased slightly over the past nine years.

This year, 7.2 per cent of regular members identified as Indigenous — down from 7.8 per cent in 2011 — according to the new figures published on the RCMP’s website.

The force said it doesn’t track detailed employment equity data, which means it’s not clear how many officers listed as “visible minority” also identify as Black or South Asian, for example.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto who studies race and policing, said that’s a problem.

Read the full article here

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah opposes RCMP union’s ‘thin blue line’ symbol endorsement, in The Star article

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently weighed in on the RCMP union’s endorsement of the ‘thin blue line’ symbol in an article titled “RCMP union pushes back against ban on ‘thin blue line’ symbol, says it has ordered custom patches” by Douglas Quan on The Star. In the article, he explains what the symbol means in today’s society and why he believes that it must go.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

We have included an excerpt of the article below. Read the full post on The Star here.

RCMP union pushes back against ban on ‘thin blue line’ symbol, says it has ordered custom patches
By Douglas Quan
Mon., Oct. 12, 2020

The union representing RCMP members is pushing back against a directive issued by management banning officers from wearing or displaying controversial “thin blue line” patches while on duty, calling them an “important and selfless” symbol.

In fact, the National Police Federation told its 20,000 members in a weekend letter that it has ordered custom thin blue line patches for all front-line officers that are expected to arrive in weeks.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a University of Toronto sociology professor specializing in race and criminal justice research, said Monday that RCMP management did the right thing issuing the ban and that the union’s stance is out of touch with prevailing public sentiment.

“They’re going to be on the wrong side of history. I just don’t understand why they’re not engaging in a more positive manner and putting policing in a better — rather than a worse — position,” he said.

The (lack of) diversity of Canada’s cannabis industry: report by Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah featured on CBC News and CBC Radio One

A recent report by Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah and Nazlee Maghsoudi of the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation about the diversity of Canada’s cannabis industry leaders was featured on a CBC News article by Joyita Sengupta and a CBC Radio One interview. In these appearances, Professor Owusu-Bempah and Nazlee Maghsoudi cite the findings of their policy brief to emphasize the severe underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous people and women overall in the executive teams of Canada’s cannabis industry.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

We’ve included an excerpt from the CBC News article below. Read the full article here, and listen to the CBC Radio One interview with Nazlee Maghsoudi here.

Black and Indigenous entrepreneurs struggle for traction in Canada’s cannabis industry
By Joyita Sengupta
Sat., Oct. 17, 2020

[…]

policy brief released Oct. 14 by the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation and the University of Toronto looked at c-suite level executives, parent companies and licensed producers in Canada. The research reveals that two years after legalization, 84 per cent of cannabis industry leaders are white and 86 per cent are men.

The report found that only 2 per cent of industry leaders are Indigenous, and just 1 per cent are Black.

Lead author Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, says the lack of Black and Indigenous leadership in the industry goes beyond just an issue of representation or diversity.

“Black and Indigenous people that we found to be underrepresented in leadership in cannabis were the two groups that were most targeted by prohibition. So they were the groups that were most criminalized, for example, for minor possession,” said Owusu-Bempah.

In order to qualify for a retail or cultivation licence, applicants must clear a criminal background check, and this eliminates potential cannabis industry entrepreneurs who have a record for possession.

“And when we look at other jurisdictions, for example, south of the border, there have been purposeful attempts to ensure that those groups are included,” said Owusu-Bempah.

Some places like San Francisco and Oakland have created social equity programs for individuals affected by the criminalization of cannabis, not only clearing their records but providing pathways to starting their own legal businesses.

“That simply has not happened here in Canada,” Owusu-Bempah said.

Cannabis prohibition’s racial and gender disparities continue to thrive in the legalized cannabis industry: Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah publishes new article on The Globe and Mail

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently co-authored an article titled “Who is profiting off of cannabis in Canada? Not those who suffered most under cannabis prohibition” on The Globe and Mail with Nazlee Maghsoudi, a Knowledge Translation Manager at the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation (CDPE) and a Doctoral Candidate in Health Services Research at the University of Toronto. This article reflects on the racial and gender disparities during the cannabis prohibition that continue today in the legalized cannabis industry.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice.

We have included an excerpt of the article below. Read the full post on The Globe and Mail here.

Who is profiting off of cannabis in Canada? Not those who suffered most under cannabis prohibition
By Nazlee Maghsoudi and Dr. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah
Weds., Oct. 14, 2020

It is becoming increasingly recognized that drug laws have long been used as a tool for policing and controlling Black and Brown populations, contributing greatly to their overrepresentation in the criminal-justice system. Canada is no exception, although this feature of our past and present has received far less attention than it has in the United States.

As one of the few research efforts on this issue, a forthcoming analysis in the International Journal of Drug Policy demonstrates stark racial and gender disparities in the rates of arrest for simple cannabis possession in five Canadian cities, with Black and Indigenous people (particularly Black and Indigenous men) being more likely to be arrested than white people, despite evidence of similar rates of use across racial groups.

Against such a backdrop, the promise of a newly legalized cannabis industry in Canada was heralded by many as an opportunity to rectify the harms experienced by Black and Indigenous people under cannabis prohibition.

As we approach the two-year anniversary of cannabis legalization, a new policy brief released by the Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation and the University of Toronto shows that the potential of a diverse and equitable legal cannabis industry has been far from achieved.

De-tasking police and restructuring community safety – Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah featured in discussion about police and public safety on The Agenda

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently appeared on an episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin alongside former RCMP officer Chad Haggerty, London police chief Stephen Williams and staff lawyer at Black Legal Action Centre Fareeda Adam. They discussed the role of police in society, given recent events in the U.S. and Canada. In this conversation, Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah sheds light on his views regarding defunding the police, the consensus between police, community and political leadership, the oversight of the police in Ontario, and a re-imagined police service where weapons are not carried.

Highlighted in this discussion is the term “de-tasking the police” to emphasize the delegation of current police tasks towards more appropriate organizations and institutions, thus reducing the negative consequences of police engagement in unsuitable activities and reducing the police budget. Such a budget reduction, to Professor Owusu-Bempah, requires close examination of the situation to sensibly reduce funds without jeopardizing public safety. De-tasking the police may also help with mental health, homelessness and youth programming. Professor Owusu-Bempah calls for a drastic re-imagining of public safety and policing that places more emphasis on social institutions, civil society organizations, and citizens.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice.

We’ve included a transcript excerpt from Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah’s discussion below. The complete episode, Rethinking Policing, can be found here.

Who Should Keep the Public Safe?
The Agenda with Steve Paikin

Steve Paikin: “Akwasi, maybe you could follow up. We talk about taking responsibilities away from police. On the other hand, I have heard the expression defund the police meaning the police are just not the best people to carry out this function and therefore we need to take that money, not to punish police, but to more appropriately spend it on others who can better perform those tasks. Help us understand what your understanding of all this means?”

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah: “I think we’re hearing all of the things you said and more, and I particularly appreciate the term that one of my colleagues kind of lended to me, which is actually “De-tasking the police.” what we’ve acknowledged is that the police are doing too much and that their budgets reflect that, and we want to take away some of those tasks, and importantly we know that when we have the police engaged in activities that they’re not the best organization or institution to engage in, we have a number of negative consequences that might flow from that, one being the criminalization of people that might not otherwise be criminalized, so we can think about this in the context of homelessness, with respect to drug use, when we’ve got police in schools, but also of course in relation to the use of force as well. So I particularly like… I’m using the term in the work that I’m doing in the area, de-tasking the police, which recognizes that we’re going to take some of the tasks away from the police, and that there will be a corresponding reduction in the police budget to go along with that. This isn’t new. This has been acknowledged by the Canadian association of chiefs of police, this has been acknowledged by the Canadian government, and in other western nations long before the current conversations around defunding the police emerged as they have now.”

Watch the full episode here…

Report shows police are key drivers of racism against Black people: Akwasi Owusu-Bempah of UTM discusses the cycle of criminalization

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was recently featured in an opinion piece in The Toronto Star by columnist Shree Paradkar. The story discusses a new report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) detailing how Toronto Police are more likely to criminalize and use violence during encounters with Black people. The article Are we OK living in a society where (yet another human rights report shows) police are key drivers of racism against Black people?, cites Professor Owusu-Bempah speaking on the OHRC report. Owusu-Bempah explains how racism enters the cycle of criminalization beginning with the overpolicing of Black communities and accumulates throughout each level of engagement with the law enforcement and court systems. He highlights how the disruption of these encounters has broad and long-lasting impacts on Black lives well after individual encounters with law enforcement, and these effects can feed back into the cycle that finds Black people at a heightened risk of being criminalized.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the U of T Mississauga campus. He frequently provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets on topics related to his research focus: the intersection of race, policing and justice.

We’ve included an excerpt to the article below. Read the full article in The Toronto Star here (paywall).

Are we OK living in a society where (yet another human rights report shows) police are key drivers of racism against Black people?

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on reducing unnecessary interactions between the public and the police

Akwasi Owusu-BempahProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently spoke to CBC News on limiting unnecessary interactions between the public and the police force. Professor Owusu-Bempah says that this is an important step to take because some of these unnecessary interactions have resulted in violence. Professor Owusu-Bempah explains that other agencies may be more suitable to complete some of the tasks.

Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides insightful commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The full story is available on the CBC News website here.

$46M in active civil lawsuits against Windsor police, malicious prosecution and negligence among claims

Jul 14, 2020

There are currently 12 open civil lawsuits against the Windsor Police Service totalling more than $46 million and those involve allegations such as collusion, malicious prosecution, assault and negligence, CBC News has learned.

Documents obtained through multiple freedom of information requests also show Windsor taxpayers have paid out $1.2 million, between 2006 and 2019, to victims who made accusations of malicious prosecution, wrongful arrest and assault relating to city cops. It involved 64 lawsuits and the confidential payouts are actually larger because that $1.2 million figure doesn’t include what the city’s insurers end up compensating.

“I think we need to consider the dollar amounts in the context of the calls for defunding the police we’re hearing at the moment,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

Police are being asked to do too many different things, he said, and that means more officer interactions with the public when other agencies may be more appropriate to respond.

“The less we have police presence in the lives of people where it doesn’t need to be, the less likely we are to have the types of assaults and violence that lead to these lawsuits,” said Owusu-Bempah.

Watch as Akwasi Owusu-Bempah explains why reducing unnecessary interactions between the police and the public is a good thing:

Read the full article… 

Professor Akwasi Owusu Bempah: Defunding the police: what does it mean?

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently spoke to CTV News about what it means to defund the police as a way to end violent policing amongst Black communities. Professor Owusu-Bempah explained that defunding the police does not necessarily mean eliminating the police force. Instead, it means to reallocate and redistribute some of their funds to important agencies such as mental health services, child welfare services, and education. Professor Owusu-Bempah says that defunding the police should start by calibrating the roles, responsibilities, and tasks of the police force as well as their associated costs.

Professor Owusu-Bempah frequently provides insightful commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below. The full story is available on the CTV News website here.

What defunding the police could look like in Canada’s largest city

June 10, 2020

By Brooklyn Neustaeter

In Toronto, where almost a quarter of residents’ property taxes go just to funding the police, two city councillors on Monday put forward a motion to cut the city’s police budget by 10 per cent and shift it to “much-needed community supports.”

Thousands have signed petitions in other parts of the country, including Vancouver, Regina and Montreal, for similar reallocations of police funds.

However, the concept of defunding the police doesn’t necessarily mean abolishing police forces. As University of Toronto Mississauga sociology professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah explains, defunding the police would mean redistributing some of their funding elsewhere.

“[It’s] a reallocation or a reassignment of certain tasks and functions that we recognize that the police aren’t performing very well, that there are negative outcomes to their involvement in those activities such as increased risk for the use of violence and potential for criminalization,” Owusu-Bempah told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.

So what would defunding the police actually look like in Canada’s largest city?

NEW SERVICE FOR MENTAL HEALTH CRISES

Mental health is an essential piece of the call for defunding since many police-involved deaths in Canada have involved mental health and substance abuse issues.

Owusu-Bempah said redirected police funding could go to boosting supports for mental health and creating a new type of emergency service used in times of mental health crises.

“A large part of the problem is for individuals who are suffering mental health crises, and for those around them, the police are often the quickest point of contact or seemingly the most sensible resource to call,” Owusu-Bempah said.

Read the full article…

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on the Agenda

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently appeared on an episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin alongside Sandy Hudson, Kike Ojo-Thompson, and Roger Dundas to discuss solutions to stop anti-Black racism and systematic discrimination on a large scale. Professor Owusu-Bampah compares structural racism in the US and Canada, emphasizing the political sphere of racism in both countries. He explains how the type of neighbourhoods a community resides in may disproportionately affect the type of policing a community receives. He further explains the need to rethink the roles and responsibilities of the police in order to fight against racism. The full episode is available on the website here.

Professor Owusu-Bampah frequently provides insightful commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities on the UT Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice. We have posted the video below.

You can also watch the full video here…

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on defunding the police

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently spoke to the Toronto Star about the movement to defund police in favour of community organizations  especially in the cases of mental health calls. We have included an excerpt of the article below. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing and justice.

‘Defunding’ police, funding mental health resources will save lives, experts say

The death of a Toronto woman who fell from her 24th-floor balcony while police were in her home has renewed calls for an overhaul of how society deals with people in mental health crises.

Some experts believe “defunding” police — taking some of the taxpayer money going to law enforcement and putting it towards mental health services — is one way to avoid deadly interactions between officers and people struggling with mental illness.

The blowback follows the death last week of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old woman whose family asked police to take her to a mental health hospital. Police have said they were responding to an assault call, but the family has questioned the role of Toronto officers in her death. The province’s police watchdog has taken over the case.

“I think it’s unfortunate we’ve come to a place in our society that police become first responders to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

“What we should do is take back that money, to defund police, and give it over to mental health professionals who are better equipped to help these people.”

Read the full article.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah on how to reduce police violence

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah spoke to Mugglehead News in response to US House of Representatives suggesting that the War on Drugs was responsible for increases in police violence, particularly against Black people. While the US resolution called for greater accountability, Professor Owusu-Bempah argued that reducing the funding and scope of responsibilities of the police would more effectively reduce police violence. We have included an excerpt of the article below. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the UT Mississauga campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing and justice.

US House resolution points to war on drugs as contributing to police brutality

Best way to reduce police violence is to scale back funding and amount of responsibility police have, says criminology prof
 Michelle Gamage June 2, 2020  16 min

A new resolution condemning police brutality was introduced in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, citing the war on drugs as contributing to “the systemic targeting of and use of deadly and brutal force against people of colour, particularly black people.”

The resolution calls for increased police accountability, following recent police killings of George Floyd in Minnesota and Brennoa Taylor in Kentucky. The deaths and a history of unarmed black citizens being killed by police have sparked protests and riots in the U.S., as well as demonstrations worldwide, with many demanding the officers involved face criminal charges proportional to their alleged crimes.

But creating more oversight isn’t the best way to reduce police brutality, says Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

As an expert on the intersection of race, crime and criminal justice, Owusu-Bempah says the best way to reduce police violence is to scale back the funding and amount of responsibility police have.

“For centuries we simply asked the police to do more and more and more,” he said. “They are primary responders in issues involving homelessness, mental health and a whole host of other social ills — and of course related to substance use and addiction. I don’t think police are the right institution to be engaging in those areas. I’d rather see a culture of less policing rather than police oversight.”

Owusu-Bempah recommends demilitarizing the police and diverting funds from law enforcement to other social services.

Read the full article…

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah speaks on podcast about Cannabis and the Criminalization of Black Canadians

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently contributed to a Policy Options podcast entitled “Cannabis and the Criminalization of Black Canadians.” Policy Options is an online newsletter sponsored by the Institute for Public Policy Research.  It airs podcasts every second Wednesday. Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. he has teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus.  Owusu-Bempah has research expertise in the areas of race, policing and drug policy. The podcast includes an interview with Owusu-Bempah and also with Halifax poet, educator, journalist and activist, El Jones.

Listen to the podcast here or on the Policy Options website here.

 

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah: Canada Should Legalize All Recreational Drugs

Akwasi Owusu-BempahProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently wrote and published an opinion piece in the University of Toronto Magazine, entitled “Canada Should Legalize All Recreational Drugs.” Professor Owusu-Bempah is a Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the UTM campus. He is also the director of research for Cannabis Amnesty, a Canadian organization advocating for pardons for non-violent, minor cannabis offenses.

The full article is available on magazine.utoronto.ca. I have pasted an excerpt from the article below.

Why are most recreational drugs illegal? If the rationale for the war on drugs is to decrease drug use, it hasn’t worked. It hasn’t stopped the production or importation of drugs. Quite the opposite: there are billions of dollars to be made from the illegal drug trade. This often comes with serious violence – sometimes in Canada, but more often in Mexico 1 and other source countries in South America and Central America.

The United States, in particular, has been waging a war on drugs for several decades, 2 and it’s still one of the world’s largest consumers of cocaine. 3 This should tell us that we’re not going to reduce drug use through the enforcement of laws.

Some people use drugs because they enjoy doing so. Many Canadians already consume a number of drugs each week: alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are the most common. People also use harder drugs recreationally, and of course, some of these people develop substance use and abuse problems. But arresting and incarcerating them is not going to help them deal with the issues that are leading them to use or abuse harder drugs in the first place. This is why a public health approach to all drugs, where we’re striving for harm reduction rather than elimination of use, makes the most sense.

For most of human history, drugs haven’t been illegal. It’s only in the last 110 years that we’ve had drug prohibition in Canada. Even so, my neighbours in downtown Toronto often express surprise that cannabis was legalized just recently. Many think it’s been legal, or at least decriminalized, for some time. They think this because of what they look like and where they live: they don’t have to worry about being arrested.

Read the full article here.

Professor Owusu-Bempah discusses carding on “TVO”

Akwasi Owusu-BempahProfessor Owusu-Bempah participated in a discussion on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paiken regarding the issues of carding. Justice Michael Tulloch recently called for an end to random carding in Ontario, among other recommendations, because it has a minimal role in deterring offenders, or reducing crime. Professor Owusu-Bempah spoke as part of a panel.  He spoke to the trend showing the escalation of street checks and their impact, in particular, on male youths of colour and other racialized communities. Research in this area, according to Professor Owusu-Bempah, shows that repeated encounters with police have negative mental health and community safety impacts.

Professor Owusu-Bempah begins speaking around minute 8:30 and onwards. The full video can be found here.

Dr. Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UTM camps. His research is focused on three main areas: Policing, youth marginalization and exclusion, and race. He is particularly interested in how people of the African Diaspora (African Canadians, African Americans) perceive and experience law enforcement and punishment. His research has recently been published in the scholarly journals Policing and Society, Crime and Justice, and Theoretical Criminology.

Professor Owusu-Bempah discusses cannabis justice measures on “Vice”

Akwasi Owusu-BempahProfessor Owusu-Bempah discussed cannabis justice measures in a video on VICE. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have been charged with cannabis-related offences, and racialized communities have been hit especially hard. In response, Professor Owusu-Bempah explains a three-pronged approach to reparations: cannabis amnesty and expungement of records; inclusion in the list of the cannabis industry; and reinvestment of some of the tax revenue from legal sales back into communities that were most targeted and harmed by prohibition. In brief, these measures are intended to repair conditions for people with previous records of cannabis related offences, and provide avenues for them to enter into the newly legalized industry.

Professor Owusu-Bempah appears at about minute 3:00. The full video can be found here.

Dr. Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UTM camps. His research is focused on three main areas: Policing, youth marginalization and exclusion, and race. He is particularly interested in how people of the African Diaspora (African Canadians, African Americans) perceive and experience law enforcement and punishment. His research has recently been published in the scholarly journals Policing and Society, Crime and Justice, and Theoretical Criminology.

UTM’s The Medium: Dr. Owusu-Bempah Discusses Issues Before and After Cannabis Legalization

Akwasi Owusu-BempahThe Medium, UTM’s student newspaper, recently published a discussion featuring Dr. Owusu-Bempah discussing  cannabis prior to, and following, legalization. In the article, he describes cannabis as a “gateway drug – not a gateway to harder drug use as is often thought of, but a gateway into the criminal justice system.” For the most part, cannabis-users who were arrested before legalization would be convicted for a “non-custodial sentence,” which includes probation or community service. This conviction would still appear on the individual’s criminal record and “become known to the police.” If the same individual is charged for any other offence, the cannabis possession conviction would then “reflect negatively and drop them further into the justice system.”

Dr. Owusu-Bempah is an assistant professor of sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UTM camps. His research is focused on three main areas: Policing, youth marginalization and exclusion, and race. He is particularly interested in how people of the African Diaspora (African Canadians, African Americans) perceive and experience law enforcement and punishment. His research has recently been published in the scholarly journals Policing and Society, Crime and Justice, and Theoretical Criminology.

An excerpt of the article is included below:

Passionate about “providing amnesty for those who have cannabis convictions,” Owusu-Bempah explains how the “lives of the 500,000 Canadians who have a criminal record for cannabis conviction have been damaged.” These people “have a harder time finishing their education, securing meaningful employment, securing housing, and also travelling.” Owusu-Bempah is currently “working to have the government erase [their] criminal records”—as the crime is no longer illegal—and he believes that “we should be making sure that those people are able to get jobs in the legal cannabis industry.” Additionally, he wants “the government [to] put a certain amount of money that they get from cannabis sales taxes back into the communities that were most policed.”

When asked about illegal methods of obtaining marijuana, Owusu-Bempah provides a realistic answer, “for now, a black market is going to remain.”

For individuals who do not have online methods of payment to purchase cannabis online in Ontario, those who “might not want to wait for their product to arrive in the mail,” or those who “might be skeptical of the government,” they may find previous illegal sources as more convenient or appealing. However, Owusu-Bempah is hopeful that “ultimately, as legalization progresses, more and more [illegal dealers] will be put out of business.”

The full article can be found here.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah “Canada Should Legalize All Recreational Drugs?”

Akwasi Owusu-BempahThe University of Toronto Magazine recently published a debate in its Opinion pages regarding the merits of legalizing all drugs in Canada. Sociology Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah presented the case in favour of legalization. He wrote in opposition to Professor Robert Mann, of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, who argued that the potential harm to individuals is too great. Professor Owusu-Bempah, on the other hand, argued that the social costs of criminalizing drug use are a greater harm to society and that a public health approach to drug use would be more beneficial than a criminal one. Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, with teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. His work focuses on the intersections of race, crime and criminal justice, with a particular interest in the area of policing.

The full article can be viewed here.  We have posted an excerpt below.

Why are most recreational drugs illegal? If the rationale for the war on drugs is to decrease drug use, it hasn’t worked. It hasn’t stopped the production or importation of drugs. Quite the opposite: there are billions of dollars to be made from the illegal drug trade. This often comes with serious violence – sometimes in Canada, but more often in Mexico 1 and other source countries in South America and Central America.

The United States, in particular, has been waging a war on drugs for several decades, 2 and it’s still one of the world’s largest consumers of cocaine. 3 This should tell us that we’re not going to reduce drug use through the enforcement of laws.

Some people use drugs because they enjoy doing so. Many Canadians already consume a number of drugs each week: alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are the most common. People also use harder drugs recreationally, and of course, some of these people develop substance use and abuse problems. But arresting and incarcerating them is not going to help them deal with the issues that are leading them to use or abuse harder drugs in the first place. This is why a public health approach to all drugs, where we’re striving for harm reduction rather than elimination of use, makes the most sense.

For most of human history, drugs haven’t been illegal. It’s only in the last 110 years that we’ve had drug prohibition in Canada. Even so, my neighbours in downtown Toronto often express surprise that cannabis was legalized just recently. Many think it’s been legal, or at least decriminalized, for some time. They think this because of what they look like and where they live: they don’t have to worry about being arrested.

As a criminologist, I’m particularly interested in how Black males perceive and experience the police. And you can’t do research around race and policing without focusing on drugs. The war on drugs drives many of the inequalities we see in our justice system.

We know that Canadians use drugs at similar rates across racial groups. 4 But in practice, drug laws are used to intrude into the lives of certain segments of the population. In Toronto and in many other cities, the unequal enforcement of drug laws 5 has profoundly harmed the individuals that are targeted, their families and their communities. A higher proportion of members of these communities have criminal records for drug possession that impede their ability to finish their education, to gain meaningful employment, to find housing and to travel.

Read the full article.

 

Professor Owusu-Bempah talks about the need for social change following cannabis legalization

Akwasi Owusu-BempahIn October, 2018, Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah presented a a TEDx talk as part of the TEDx Mississauga series. His talk, The Untapped Promise of Cannabis Legalization, discusses the people who have been most impacted by drug (particularly cannabis) prohibition, and explains how the economic benefits of legalization can be used to promote positive social change. One of the new forms of injustice stemming from the war on drugs is the inability of people, who were made targets, to benefit from the fruits of legalization. The current discussion surrounding economic prosperity from cannabis legalization has shadowed some of the momentous social opportunities that legalization provides us with. Professor Owusu-Bempah identifies some ways to repair what has happened under prohibition laws, which have targeted black, Indigenous, Asian and Latino populations. People who have been convicted of crimes that are no longer illegal should receive expungement, rather than a pardon, so that their criminal records can be completely erased. They should also have the opportunity to benefit from the fruits of legalization, and the government should reinvest some tax revenues generated from the sale of legal cannabis back into communities most harmed by prohibition.

Watch the full TED talk here.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UTM camps. His research is focused on three main areas: Policing, youth marginalization and exclusion, and race. He is particularly interested in how people of the African Diaspora (African Canadians, African Americans) perceive and experience law enforcement and punishment. His research has recently been published in the scholarly journals Policing and Society, Crime and Justice, and Theoretical Criminology.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah interviewed on CBC Radio One’s The Current

Akwasi Owusu-BempahProfessor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah was recently interviewed in an episode of CBC Radio One’s The Current. He discussed the upcoming decriminalization of cannabis in Canada, and its impact on those in marginalized communities who have been disproportionately criminalized for marijuana related offenses. Professor Owusu-Bempah pointed to the system that operates in Oakland, California and suggested that ‘equity permits’ for those previously criminalized could help to mitigate the past injustices. While this would ensure more equality in the accessing of marijuana sales for these communities, socioeconomic factors, stigma, and existing convictions will still present barriers for these groups.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is an assistant professor of sociology whose research focuses on policing, youth marginalization and exclusion, and race, ethnicity and crime; specifically how people of the African Diaspora perceive and experience law enforcement and punishment.

The episode and its transcript are available here. We have posted an excerpt below.

As Canada prepares to de-criminalize cannabis, there are growing calls for an amnesty on pot convictions to right past wrongs, and allow access to a burgeoning industry.

Currently, proposed regulations enable Health Canada to refuse clearance to individuals associated to organized crime; who have past convictions; or anyone with an association to drug trafficking, corruption or violent offences.

Advocates argue enforcement of drug laws have not been equal to all social groups, and it’s necessary to acknowledge a privilege that people in racialized communities don’t have.

“Many Canadians, they can use their privilege to shield themselves from criminalization,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto working on race, crime and criminal justice.

“And then you’ve got other groups of people, many that I work with, who have been the target of the war on drugs, who have been criminalized, in communities that have been criminalized, and they’re now going to be excluded.”

Listen to the episode here.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah makes the case for pardons and preferential licensing in Canadian Cannabis legislation

Sociology Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah has recently authored an article in The Hill Times, discussing the need for pardons and preferential licensing in Canada’s cannabis legalization policy. According to Professor Owusu-Bempah, cannabis prohibition has had disproportionate and negative impacts on marginalized groups in Canada. In order to remedy these harms, Professor Owusu-Bempah emphasizes the need for legal pardons on convictions and charges related to cannabis offences, as well as the need to include communities and people negatively affected by cannabis prohibition in the new opportunities created from legalization.

Professor Owusu-Bempah is a professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto with teaching responsibilities at the UTM campus. His research focuses on policing, youth marginalization and exclusion, and race ethnicity and crime. The Hill Times is an independently owned weekly news publication based in Ottawa that reports on Canadian politics and government processes.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below.

Cannabis legalization in Canada: the case for pardons and preferential licensing

This law, and many that followed, had a considerable negative impact on the very groups that their proponents so often purported to help. At a time when Canada once again stands at the forefront of international drug law, we should set an example to the world by providing redress for the harms we now know we have inflicted.

AKWASI OWUSU-BEMPAH | Monday, Jan. 22, 2018

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s proposed date for legalizing the recreational use of cannabis is fast approaching and the Senate is debating Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act. Given the social harms associated with drug prohibition, legalization cannot come soon enough. We also need to go further and right past wrongs by pardoning those convicted of minor cannabis offences and by giving preference to those most targeted by Canada’s war on drugs when we issue cultivation and distribution licences.

Although unrecognized by many, the policing of cannabis and other drugs has been a priority for Canadian law enforcement agencies. According to Statistics Canada, Canadian police agencies recorded approximately 109,000 offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) in 2013, the most recent year for which comprehensive data are readily available. Of these, about 73,000 were cannabis-related cases and 59,000 were for possession. While many of these cases were cleared through police discretion (i.e. not taken to court), the number of people tried for simple possession was significant. Between 2008 and 2009 and 2011 and 2012, cannabis possession accounted for approximately 59,000 adult and 14,000 youth cases completed in our courts. Of these, 25,000 adults and almost 6,000 youth were found guilty. So, in less than half the time our prime minister has held office, more than 30,000 Canadians were branded with the marker of a criminal record for a “crime” committed by a significant proportion of the Canadian public, including Justin Trudeau when he sat as MP.

Unfortunately, these 30,000 people joined a lengthy list of Canadians who, like them, face difficulties travelling overseas, volunteering at their local schools and finding meaningful employment due to minor cannabis offences. We are legalizing the drug in part for this very reason; we acknowledge the harms caused by its current illegality. As we move towards legalization we should not forget those who have already been affected. Former Toronto police chief and current Liberal drug czar, Bill Blair, has himself pointed out these people are more likely to be drawn from the young, impoverished, and otherwise marginalized—the very people that we should be trying to better incorporate into our society, not working to exclude from it.

So how can we rectify this? By pardoning the convicted and providing opportunities for those personally affected by the war on drugs, as well as members of their communities, to benefit from a burgeoning industry.

Read the full article here.