Boxer Johnson wins racism complaint

Kirk Johnson, the Canadian boxer who accused Halifax police of racism, has won his case with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

In a report released Tuesday, inquiry chair Philip Girard said Halifax police Constable Michael Sanford discriminated against Johnson when he ticketed and towed his vehicle on April 12, 1998.

Johnson was awarded $10,000 in damages plus $4,790 to cover travel expenses. Johnson, who hails from North Preston, N.S., was asking for $25,000.

The commission also ordered the police service to create a scholarship in Johnson's name. It will be awarded annually to a criminal justice student from North Preston.

"This victory is very important," Johnson said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. "I'm happy, but I'm disappointed that it took five long years for justice to be served."

The commission ordered an inquiry into the heavyweight boxer's complaint that his car was impounded in 1998 because he's black. Johnson's black Ford Mustang, which had Texas plates, was seized in a Dartmouth parking lot on Easter Sunday in 1998.

Const. Mike Sanford, backed by four other police cars, ticketed and impounded the boxer's car for being unregistered and uninsured. The tickets were cancelled the next day and Johnson received his vehicle back after it was confirmed the car was registered in Texas.

Sanford's lawyer argued his client had reason to be suspicious of the vehicle since it had tinted windows, which are illegal in Nova Scotia.

He also claimed his client was unable to see inside the car and therefore didn't know the occupants, Johnson and his cousin Earl Fraser, were black.

Sanford also believed the licence plate had expired, according to his lawyer.

During the nine-day inquiry Johnson, who lives and trains primarily in Texas, said he had been stopped 28 times in the car while on visits to his parents in the five years before the incident.

In Tuesday's report, Girard said he's not prepared to call the police service an organization rife with racism, however, he ordered police to find a way to keep statistics on the race of all drivers stopped.

Girard also suggested the police hire consultants to do a needs assessment of its policies and practices on anti-racism education and diversity training

The police service has 30 days to appeal Girard's decision.

with files from CBC Nova Scotia and Canadian Press