Police discriminated against black boxer: ruling

Human rights inquiry awards boxer Kirk Johnson $10,000 plus expenses for 1998 Halifax incident that he has called racial profiling

Halifax police discriminated against heavyweight boxer Kirk Johnson by pulling over his car five years ago, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission ruled Tuesday.

Board of inquiry chairman Philip Girard awarded Johnson $10,000 plus travel expenses. Johnson was asking for $25,000.

"I find that the events of 12 April were very humiliating, stressful and painful for Mr. Johnson," Girard wrote in his decision.

Girard says he's not prepared to call the police service an organization rife with racism, but ordered police to:

  • keep statistics on the race of all drivers stopped
  • 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.

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

He said the case has already made things better for blacks in Nova Scotia: "When the police stop us now, they're giving us a real reason for stopping us... so already it has made some type of change."

Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission chair Mayann Francis says the ruling sends some important messages.

"For the police department, it's like sending a message to all public authorities: You are gonna be held to a higher level of accountability. You must be transparent and you must work very hard to win the trust of Nova Scotians and the public, not just of the black community."

Johnson complained that his black Mustang was seized in a Dartmouth parking lot on Easter Sunday in 1998 simply because he's black.

Johnson was in the car, which had Texas licence plates, with his cousin Earl Fraser.

Const. Mike Sanford, backed by four other police cars, ticketed and impounded the boxer's car for being unregistered and uninsured. The next day the tickets were cancelled and Johnson got his car back.

Sanford's lawyer argued that the officer became suspicious because the car was from out of country and had tinted windows. Tinted windows are illegal in Nova Scotia.

He added that because the windows were tinted, Sanford could not tell if the people in the car were black.

He said Sanford thought the licence plate had expired.

Sanford has said he would not apologize for pulling Johnson over.

Girard did not call for an apology, writing "a forced apology may be worse than no apology at all, and I will not order Constable Sanford or the Halifax Regional Police Service to make one."

Johnson addressed the apology issue Tuesday by saying: "If I've got to make someone apologize to me, it ain't real anyway."

Members of Halifax's black community are hailing the ruling.

"I think it was the right decision," said Dr. Henry Bishop, the chief curator of the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia.

"I think it's important these things be exposed to the general public. Kirk Johnson being the celebrity that he is, it's a possibility that anybody could be in that predicament. It's happened to me, much younger than I am right now, but it's always in the back of your mind that it could happen again."