ANOTHER FLAWED HANDLING OF RACE COMPLAINT FROM ENGLISH-SPEAKING BLACKS BY HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
Montreal, October 21, 2014 --- A report on the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission’s investigation into the case of a violent police intervention in the home of an English-speaking Black woman and the arrest of her son raises once again raises questions about how complaints of this nature are being handled.
The case dates back to Summer 2009, when police officers in the NDG district entered the home of Valerie, a low-income Black mother, in response to neighbors’ report of kids fighting in front of the home. It was past midnight, and Valerie and her oldest daughter were still out at a Carifiesta celebration.
The two white officers violently arrested Ben, then 15 years old, in his home. Ben was babysitting his younger siblings and did not allow the officers in because he thought that they needed a warrant to search the home. The officers then drove Ben to a car repair lot nearby; Ben’s brother and another Black youth, both 11 years old, went by bike to the lot to check out Ben’s condition, and were also arrested. All three youths were handcuffed and detained in the police car and released after two hours after a Batshaw Youth and Family Center social worker arrived. This social worker then went to Valerie’s home to inspect the premises since, after Ben’s arrest, his younger siblings were alone at home. There were several police cars and up to 10 police officers present at the scene.
Ben was charged for obstruction of police work, but the Youth Court acquitted him of the charge in 2011. At the time of the incident, Batshaw opened a youth protection file on the family and closed the file shortly after.
Believing that the police’s arrest of Ben was tainted by race and age-based discrimination, Valerie sought CRARR’s help to file a civil rights complaint and a police ethics complaint. After investigation, the Police Ethics Commissioner rejected the police ethics complaint, ruling that the officers conducted themselves appropriately and legally. The decision was not reviewed or appealed in time since Valerie was in the midst of moving.
After two attempts to resolve the civil rights complaint through mediation, the Human Rights Commission proceeded with an investigation and produced a factual report in July 2014. The report has been submitted to a committee of three Commissioners to decide whether the case will be forwarded to the Human Rights Tribunal or rejected. An analysis of the investigation report, however, reveals troubling findings.
First, the Commission's report makes no mention of Ben’s acquittal in 2011, and the reasons for the acquittal. The report does not even list, among the documents studied, the recordings of the criminal trial proceedings (since there was no full written decision). Ambulance and hospital records were also not obtained and examined, despite the fact that an ambulance was called to transport Valerie, who came home after Ben was arrested, and her 12-year-old daughter who complained of being hit by one of the officers in the belly during her brother's arrest in the home.
Second, the two police officers named in the complaint were interviewed by the Human Rights Commission’s investigator in February 2014, a full four-and-a-half years after the incident. The interviews reproduced versions that were similar to those given in the criminal trial, with some of the same inconsistencies that were not probed.
Third, during the interviews of the two officers, the investigator did not ask the police any questions regarding information they wrote in their reports on the incident, including comments that they saw “street gang” posters in the home (the posters were actually pictures of hip hop artists Tupac and Biggie Smalls), and claims of evidence of marijuana consumption – an allegation which Valérie and her son consistently contested. It is clear by the officer’s answers reproduced in the Commission’s investigation report, that they were never asked about their reasons regarding the qualification of these posters as “street gang” symbols, nor about their knowledge of urban African American culture and of the English-speaking Black community of NDG. It is also evident that their report of illegal drug use in the home was neither investigated nor challenged.
Fourth, the Batshaw social worker who arrived that night to assess the situation and inspect the home was not interviewed by the Human Rights Commission. During her interview for the police ethics investigation, she was not asked about the “street gang” posters and the officers’ statement about the “strong odor of marijuana” and traces of illegal drugs in the home.
Furthermore, this social worker was quoted in the police ethics report as stating that the police intervention was “beyond reproach” towards the youth. The problem with the use of this statement is that she came to the scene halfway through the intervention, after Ben’s arrest in his home and after the three youths were detained in handcuffs in the police car in the auto repair lot. Her comments about the police intervention could therefore be qualified as being based on hearsay.
There were several other information gaps and contradictions that the Human Rights Commission Investigation Report did not mention, including the manner in which the two 11-year-olds were arrested in the auto repair lot. Social context information was also missing in the report, despite the Commission's undertaking in 2011 to take into account the broader social context (for instance, the family's neighborhood and social housing conditions) when addressing complaints of racial profiling and discrimination.
It should be noted that police officers cited in a police ethics complaint have the right to not cooperate with the Police Ethics Commissioner’s investigation. In this case, both officers did not. Consequently, the Commissioner relied on police reports filed by the officers and other police and civilian witnesses, among other information. The Commissioner’s decision is quoted in 9 of the 30 pages of the Human Rights Commission investigation report.
“I am shocked to learn of these problems in the human rights investigation, especially the fact that the officers’ allegations about street gang symbols and marijuana in my house were not examined,” said Valerie. “This is not a full investigation but it gives the illusion that an investigation was done, as the Commission did not even ask questions about the officers’ description of my children as street gang members and drug users.”
“We have begun to document problems with the Commission’s treatment of complaints of racial profiling and discrimination, especially when they involve police and security personnel and English-speaking Black persons,” added CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi. “The institutionalized resistance to developing competencies on systemic racism and intersectionality from the top down seems to be at the core of these problems.”
“We are concerned that the panel of three Human Rights Commissioners will proceed with the use of this faulty investigation report, despite glaring information gaps and errors, to close the case on the basis of “insufficient evidence of race discrimination,” he noted.