HALIFAX -- When visible minorities in Nova Scotia go shopping, they are more often the targets of offensive language or treated as potential thieves compared with the experiences of white people, a new report says.

The report by the province's Human Rights Commission is touted as the first survey of its kind in Canada and will be used by the commission's director, David Shannon, to broaden the discussion on racial profiling with the business community and the public.

"We hope that it provides a jumping off point to better educate all of us regarding human rights and how important it is for all people to feel accepted," Shannon said in releasing the 131-page report that surveyed several racial and ethnic groups including Aboriginal Peoples, African-Nova Scotians and Muslims.

Data for the study was gathered through a survey of 1,219 people in face-to-face interviews in Halifax, Millbrook, Digby and Sydney between March and August of 2012. A smaller group of 29 people took part in focus groups during the project.

About 93 per cent of the surveys were conducted in the Halifax area because it has the province's largest mix of ethnic groups, something the report says didn't skew the results.

"It is significant that the trends found throughout the Halifax Regional Municipality were consistent with those of the smaller sample regions of Sydney and Digby," the report states.

Commission member Gerald Hashey said the study surveyed the explicit and subjective experiences of participants.

Their explicit experiences include instances when people were stopped, searched and excluded, while subjective experiences relate to incidents where people felt they were followed or were the subject of slow service, he said.

"We understand that some of the experience is subjective but it's really important to recognize there are explicit experiences happening on a regular basis in this province," said Hashey.

He said the province is unique in many respects because it's home to several established black and aboriginal communities.

"We're not as integrated as some parts of Canada are," said Hashey. "If you are not used to having a black shopper in your store the reality is you either need to pause and think about your reaction or you have an instinctive reaction that you are not even aware of."

A series of questions were asked of respondents in public areas away from stores to avoid the appearance of bias.

People were asked questions, such as whether they were ignored by staff, received slow service, were refused service or whether they were followed by store staff or security.

As an example, the study found that 32 per cent of respondents reported being followed within the last 12 months, with Aboriginal Peoples reporting the highest prevalence at 73.2 per cent followed by African Canadians at 62.7 per cent and Latin Americans at 61.5 per cent. Only 23.6 per cent of white respondents reported being followed.

Respondents were also asked whether they had been questioned about their ability to afford products, whether they were the target of offensive language and whether they had been searched, physically removed from or wrongfully detained by a store.

The study says people from visible minority groups also discussed going to great lengths to avoid being racially profiled, including dressing up to go shopping, making sure their pockets were empty and not allowing their children to bring toys on shopping trips.

Commission member Ann Divine, who is an African-Nova Scotia, said she employs certain strategies to deflect attention while in a store.

"I don't open my handbag unnecessarily in the store, I don't carry around too many bags," Divine said.

Divine said she hopes the study will also have an impact in other parts of the country.

"We would hope ... that other provinces might begin to look at the behaviour of store owners, security guards and their staff," she said.