Kitchener-Waterloo

Some Black community members frustrated after Waterloo region officer cleared of racial profiling

After a Waterloo region constable was found not guilty of racial discrimination, some members of Ontario's Black community are wondering what it will take to fix a justice system that a Kitchener MPP calls "broken and flawed."

Const. Jesse Foster not guilty of discreditable conduct, guilty of 2 charges in case of Natasha Broomes

Const. Jesse Foster was found not guilty of discreditable conduct, contrary to his obligation to provide police services equally without discrimination. He was found guilty of committing an unlawful or unnecessary arrest, as well as excessive force. (Colin Butler/CBC)

After a Waterloo region constable was found not guilty of racial discrimination, some members of Ontario's Black community are wondering what it will take to prove police bias is an issue that needs to be taken seriously.

On Tuesday, Const. Jesse Foster was cleared of discreditable conduct, contrary to his obligation to provide police services equally without discrimination, in the 2017 arrest of Natasha Broomes, a Black woman who had accused him of racial profiling.

Foster was, however, found guilty of unlawful or unnecessary arrest, and excessive use of force. The three charges under the Ontario's Police Services Act were heard by a tribunal.

Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo said the outcome has left her frustrated.

"Time and time again, we have these reports that come out from the police that talk about the disproportionate impact of use of force against Black community members," said Lindo.

"I think you've got an example of that again, but a system that is so broken and flawed that it's not able to, or willing to, connect those dots."

Lindo is concerned that the criminal justice system's unwillingness to call out incidents of discrimination will make it harder for the BIPOC community to push for change.

"The reforms … can't happen because there's never any documented 'proof' of the racial profiling that initiated or was at the root of this excessive force."

Arrest not made due to race: hearing officer

In her decision, tribunal hearing officer Debra Preston said racial profiling is a recognized problem in policing. But while Foster made poor decisions during the arrest, Preston said, they weren't because of Broomes's race.

The night of the arrest, Foster had followed Broomes home after receiving a dispatch call about a weapons incident, and a Black male suspect driving a red SUV. Broomes was driving a red or burgundy SUV at the time.

"I assert that, given Ms. Broomes's connection to Constable Foster's flawed belief that this was the 'suspect vehicle,' Constable Foster believed she must have information about the suspect or the gun," Preston wrote in her decision.

"His focus became completely about the vehicle, and not on the race or gender of the driver."

Lawyer Ben Jefferies, who represented Foster in the case, said the constable has denied all along that the arrest was racially motivated.

"We're very pleased that the superintendent ultimately came to the same conclusion," Jefferies said.

System unwilling to examine itself, advocate says

Advocate Teneile Warren also said she was disappointed with the tribunal's decision.

"In order for the justice system to find the officer guilty of this discreditable conduct, it requires a self-assessment," said Warren, who's with Reallocate WR, which advocates for public money to be directed from policing to other community services.

"We've seen that the system is not willing to admit that it has racist roots and that it needs to address them."

Both Warren and Lindo also worry about where the impact of the Foster decision on Broomes.

"What message are we sending to someone whose life was completely changed forever, who experienced a violent, racial incident and now as a justice system, we have said, 'Yes, harm happened, but it's not because you're Black,' even though all the evidence tells us that it was," said Warren.

"There's many, many questions about how she now continues in in her life, having met this kind of injustice and only part of it being recognized by the courts," added Lindo.

Broomes's lawyer, Davin Charney, declined an interview pending Foster's sentencing. A date will be set later this month.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Waterloo Region Police Service said it is reviewing the tribunal's decision and looking for opportunities to address any skill or training gaps revealed by the findings.

Foster is still employed with the WRPS.

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