Toronto

Ontario Human Rights Commission wants to take part in case it says involves racial profiling

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is fighting to be part of a disciplinary hearing against two Toronto police officers, arguing the case involves racial profiling.

Case dates back to 2011 when 4 black teens were arrested at gunpoint

Renu Mandhane, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, says a case involving four black teens who were arrested at gunpoint by police officers is “extraordinary.”

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is fighting to take part in a disciplinary hearing against two Toronto police officers, arguing the case involves racial profiling.

According to the commission, the officers approached four black teenagers after they left their apartment building on Neptune Drive in Lawrence Heights on November 21, 2011. The youths were about to attend a tutoring session offered by Pathways to Education when they were stopped.

They were arrested at gunpoint and criminally charged, but were later found to have done nothing wrong.  

Renu Mandhane, the OHRC's chief commissioner, calls the case "extraordinary."

"Any time police use of force is involved, guns are drawn, and there are no charges that result from that and there's no allegations these kids weren't doing anything wrong, that's extraordinary," she said Wednesday.

The case came to light thanks to security video outside the housing complex where the teens lived.

One officer can be seen on the grainy video punching one of the teenagers and drawing his gun, while the second officer restrained the three other teens.

The OHRC says the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) found that charges of officer misconduct were warranted, adding that, according to the officers and the teens, the youths "were not misbehaving in any manner." 

The OIPRD also found that "the manner in which the youth were stopped and questioned … was a violation of their Charter of Rights."

'Corrosive impact'

Mandhane explained why the OHRC wants to participate in the hearing.

"We've been working on racial profiling for over 10 years. We've been talking about the corrosive impact it's had on the community and, in particular, the black community. People still think racial profiling means overt acts of racism, which it isn't. It's systemic in nature and we want to bring that perspective to this proceeding."

But a lawyer for one of officers argued against human rights commission's participation.

"If you decide to give them jurisdiction, they're going to be showing up in every case where the complainant is a person of colour," woman or LGBTQ, Lawrence Gridin told the hearing.

Mandhane said she isn't "surprised the officers don't want us at the table but I am surprised the prosecutor doesn't want us at the table.

"They are meant to be prosecuting in the public interest and our interventions are in the public interest."

Peter Rosenthal, the lawyer representing the four young men, said it was "outrageous how they were treated."

"It's part of the whole problem of carding and overpolicing of the black community," Rosenthal said. "This is one particular case but it's part of a bigger pattern, unfortunately."

The disciplinary hearing for the two officers is scheduled for the fall.

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