The Black Activist- Journal of the Black Left Unity Network

A Struggle & Analysis Journal for Black Liberation initiated by the Black Left Unity Network

Toronto: Racism, Canadian Style

14 The Degree of Injustice

by Black Action Defense Committee (Toronto)

We are here today (10 am August 13, 2013, Two Carlton Street, Toronto) to express our concerns for the continuing deaths of civilians caused by police use of excessive force. These incidences of serious police misconduct and abuse have a lasting negative impact on our community. The recent action of the police clearly indicates that the escalation of brute force continues at serious and unacceptable levels in this province and indeed the country.

We feel that the continuation of the police use of deadly force in the community will further deteriorate police/community relations. We are deeply concerned that at governments all levels have not realized and have not taken actions beneficial to the Canadian society of the issue, despite the hundreds of lives that have been loss.

Police officers are authorized to carry a baton, handcuffs, a badge of authority, request back-up, carry a gun, the power to arrest, and also the decision to cause death of a citizen in the performance of his or her duty. They also have the support of the police union.

The citizen: even when their rights are violated have no independent body to which they can complain about police abuse of power. For several years the Black Action Defense Committee Inc. (BADC, or in French (Comité d’action pour la défense des Noirs) has been the leading organization in Canada advocating for police oversights at all levels of policing, and have encouraged and supported the formation of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

However since its formation the SIU has become a disappointment, and is viewed by members of the community as a rubberstamp arm of the police establishment; thereby making continuous decision in favour of the police.

Any discussion of policing must include the recognition of the extra ordinary power of the police. They are empowered by law to interfere with an individual’s liberty in the most severe way. As a result of this state sanctioned power, interaction between police and any individual person is by definition characterized by an imbalance of power

At the present time, the citizens of Ontario and Canada are being disempowered, because police officers can kill and get away with it. Civilians are being denied an ease of access to lodge complains. In general it's easier for a cop to offend a citizen than for a citizen to file a complaint. Often the victims are not financially sound to take their case through court; and in most instances legal aid does not fund professional services against police.

At this point we have two units without community input or directions (Special Investigations unit (SIU) and the (IPRO) Independent Police Review Oversight of police). Accountability of police misconduct is urgently required to start the process of rebuilding confidence in our police services; so that the community and police can begin to work together to address the continuing high degree of violence in the city and the province of Ontario.

Not being accountable to any disciplinary body but themselves, hundreds of complaints against the police, have gone unaddressed three examples. Here’s one:

1.      The death of Kenneth Allen, November 30, 1991: Toronto police removed him from a streetcar at University and Queen Street. Although millions of Ontarians saw the video of a police officer dragging Kenneth Allen with his Billy club under Kenneth’s neck and he died, the officer was charged and found not guilty of Kenneth’s death. However, a Coroner’s court found later that the death of Kenneth Allan was a homicide. It is believed that Kenneth Allen was choked to death by Toronto police Constable Paul Vanseters. To the knowledge of the community; no disciplinary action was taken against the officer.

2.      Isaiah Trickey In May 1994, attended a party on Parliament St. where someone pulled a knife on him. Three officers, including constables Shawn Meaney and Thomas Ragell, showed up. Suddenly Meaney began questioning Trickey, convinced he was a drug dealer because he was wearing a pager. The constable grabbed Trickey, flung him against a wall, handcuffed him and hustled him into the elevator. That's when Meaney and Ragell beat up Trickey, at one point ramming him with a nightstick so hard that it broke one of his ribs. Trickey was charged with assaulting the officers and taken to the police station, spending a night in jail. Constables Meaney and Ragell were never investigated or disciplined by their employer.

3.      On December 8, 1988, 17 year-old, Michael Wade Lawson was shot in the back of the head by Peel Constable Anthony Lelaragni, 24, who was charged with manslaughter; and Constable Darren Longpre, 27, who was charged with aggravated assault (Star,1989, Jan 54:A20/469). Lawson was shot in the back of the head by an illegal bullet: a .38-calibre slug known as a “hot bullet,” which expands on contact, banned in Ontario by the Ontario Police. One officer removed the legally issued bullet from his gun and replaced it with the called “hot bullet” and shot Michael Lawson in the back of his head. Again although these officers were found not guilty, to our community’s knowledge, no action was taken against the police for using an illegal bullet in the death of Michael Wade Lawson. Dudley Laws questioned the intentions of police firing that type of ammunition at civilians: “Why would you go after people with a bullet like that?” He concluded that this evidence alone warranted a murder charge.

In light of this we are not here to cast a broad indication that all police officers act in unlawful manner in the performance of their duties. We therefore acknowledge and appreciate those officers who are trying to make police a respectable name. All we are saying is if any of them act in such a manner of unnecessary excessive use of force, they must be answerable to a body outside of themselves. The BADC is not under any unrealistic assumption that being a professional means that a police officer must be able to excel at everything. There are several circumstances when an officer's assessment and negotiation skills come into play. Solving a problem or situation takes both analytical and creative skills. Depending on the problem, which particular skills are needed will vary.

BADC advocates for policies and practices that are geared at the elimination of racism, and in carrying out its work, operates from a strong commitment to being a unifying force in the community, and to be an advocate for positive changes.

In BADC’s presentation and recommendations in our community meetings, BADC’s position has been very clear in advocating for a better police-community relationship. The badc is greatly encouraged by the findings and remarks that were made by the ombudsman. He touched on many of the concerns the BADC and other organizations have voiced over the years including transparency and accountability.

The demand for the services of our organization from members of the community has made it necessary to broaden the scope of our mandate from police brutality victimization to family bereavement support and outreach. As a contribution to the prevention of crime, BADC have conducted conflict mediation programs and training to several members of the community from various priority neighborhoods for the purpose of resolving conflicts in our community.

Recommendation

1. Identify barriers to change and the impeding factors that contribute to the lack of police accountability

2. The Attorney General should give the resources or logistics for administrating a complaint and the reprimand of the police to the Complaint Director to employ a team of investigators for the purposes of investigating complaints against police officers. No police officers, or former police officers should be employed in this process.

3. At no stage of the complaint there should be any interference, influence, or investigation by police. Police must not be seen or considered to be investigating themselves; to allow this, the government of Ontario would be abusing the fundamental principles of fairness, human rights, and justice.

4. The only involvement that any police officer or police official should have in the process of a complaint against a police officer is to answer to the allegation.