Academic group launches probe into alleged racial profiling of black student

HALIFAX — A national academic group is probing an incident in which a black university student says he was singled out based on his race during a conference and falsely accused of stealing a laptop.

Shelby McPhee, a Nova Scotia graduate student in global politics, says he was photographed and asked for identification  on June 2 by two white participants during the annual congress of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of British Columbia.

The Black Canadian Studies Association published McPhee's statements about the incident, describing how the participants "followed, harassed and photographed" the Acadia University student and accused him of taking the computer.

It notes in an open letter that the RCMP arrived and found the accusations against McPhee to be false.

McPhee says in a Facebook post that the laptop was likely simply misplaced.

"Think about that," he wrote. "How much of a threat does one have to perceive the black body to be in order for her (a conference participant) to instantly think to call the cops?"

The Black Canadian Studies Association says police came to the University of British Columbia campus and detained McPhee until a representative from the federation arrived.

The association says in a tweet that the federation representative only spoke to McPhee "after the police confirmed he had been fully exonerated."

The federation says in a news release that it is treating the incident seriously "as it unequivocally opposes and denounces anti-Black racism, racial profiling, harassment and discrimination of any kind." It says it will continue to look into the incident.

Faculty members in Acadia's politics department issued an open letter condemning the treatment of their student, noting the department provided support to McPhee so he could share his research at the conference.

"This engagement is a critical part of academic life, particularly for young scholars. There is no place for harassment, marginalization, discrimination, or profiling at a conference or any academic space," the letter said.

"We are outraged by the treatment Shelby received."

The Black Canadian Studies Association says in its release that it wants a letter it has prepared sent to McPhee's two accusers. It is also asking that the theme of racism against blacks be added to program at next year's federation congress.

It says if the association remains a member of the federation, it will expect its fees be waived for the 2020 gathering.

— Follow (at)mtuttoncporg on Twitter.

The Canadian Press

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