“A TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE” - BLACK MOTHER AND DAUGHTER REACT TO HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION'S DECISION ON THEIR COMPLAINTS
Montreal, April 6, 2016 — “The Human Rights Commission's handling of complaints of racial discrimination shows the need for a critical review of the Commission's investigative work,” said the mother of a Black girl who was mistreated and dealt with violently by the Montreal transit and police authorities back in June 2012.
Ms. Sophia Bassey and her daughter Michaëlla, now 16, reacted to the Quebec Human Rights Commission's decision, received at the end of March, which dismissed their complaints filed against the Montreal Transit Authority (STM) and the Montreal Police Service (SPVM).
The case dates back to June 2012 when Michaëlla came out of her school, Lauren Hill Academy in Ville Saint-Laurent, and boarded a bus to go home around midday. Michaëlla took the bus at an unfamiliar time after writing an exam. Due to her dyslexia and other intellectual disabilities, she was unable to decipher the bus schedule and asked the bus driver to confirm when the bus was leaving.
The bus driver, who was speaking on the phone, told her to read the schedule in the bus shelter. When she explained that she was unable to do so as a result of her disability, he slammed the door in her face. Since she was unable to read the schedule, she asked the driver for assistance, while her mother connected on the line through Michaëlla’s cell phone speaker. After his phone call, he let her get on the bus. Since she was unable to read the schedule, she asked the driver for assistance, while her mother was connected on the line through Michaëlla's cell phone speaker.
The driver never gave Michaëlla nor Ms. Bassey a clear answer before and after the child got on the bus. When Michaëlla asked for the bus number so that she could let Ms. Bassey where she was, the driver pointed to a sign with the bus number, which she could not read. Ms. Bassey asked her to get a transfer, but the driver refused and told the child to go back to her seat. He then stopped the bus and called a supervisor as Michaëlla was sitting quietly in the rear of the bus, listening to her mother's instructions on the phone. Upon arrival, the supervisor demanded that Michaëlla immediately get off the bus. Fearful and confused, Michaëlla listened to her mother on the phone telling her to wait and not get off the bus with a stranger. By this time, Ms. Bassey and Michaëlla's sister were coming to pick up Michaëlla.
Within minutes, the supervisor called the police. Two officers came on the bus and in less than a minute, one officer pulled Michaëlla's arm behind her back and pushed her head down as she was hauled off the bus. Both Ms. Bassey and her other daughter could hear, on the phone, Michaëlla scream in pain as she was violently pulled off the bus. Other passengers on the bus, who offered to act as witnesses, were openly critical of the way the girl was treated.
Ms. Bassey mandated CRARR to file two complaints on her and her daughter's behalf, against the STM and the SPVM, for discrimination based on disability, race and age.
After an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the case through mediation in 2013, the Commission proceeded to investigate the complaints. An investigation report was produced in August 2015, which contained numerous and serious shortcomings, including:
• Refusal to interview two women on the bus who volunteered to be witnesses, despite CRARR's urging;
• Refusal to interview the two police officers involved, as the Commission has developed the potentially biased practice of accepting a written deposition prepared by the City's lawyers on the officers' behalf instead of interviewing them like other respondents. This is considered as a form of preferential treatment of police officers named in complaints to the Commission;
• Refusal to disclose to the complainant videotaped evidence for fair and full appraisal. Instead, the Commission provides only selective and editorialized descriptions of video images [“les policiers sortent de l'autobus avec (Michaëlla)]”, instead of accurately describing how they used excessive force on a 12-year old child to take her out of the bus;
• Failure to examine the STM and SPVM employees' training and competency in dealing with children with disabilities;
• Failure to assess key evidence objectively and independently: Instead of independently reviewing the two SPVM police officers' actions as captured in the video, the Commission relied on a SPVM station commander's opinion without any critical examination, despite the fact that the SPVM/City of Montreal was itself named as a respondent; and
• Failure to adopt the intersectional analysis for cases that involve multiple grounds of discrimination, as set out by courts in the last twenty years. In this case, the Commission failed to deal with the combined effects of discrimination based on race, age and intellectual disability.
Despite CRARR's bringing these information gaps to its attention, the Commission ignored them and went ahead to render a negative decision.
“The Commission's investigation never answered the key question: Why did the bus driver refuse to help my daughter and give her the simple information she needed? Why did the situation involving a 12-year old girl escalate into a violent police arrest?”, said Ms. Bassey.
“How can the Commission conclude that there is insufficient evidence of discrimination to dismiss our complaints when it refused to gather key information from key witnesses?” noted Ms. Bassey.
“Its inexplicable refusal to interview our witnesses alone constitutes a travesty of justice. The Commission produced a decision that is clearly biased in favor of the police and the STM.”
“I'm quite shocked that the Commission didn't even examine the fact that the driver at first closed the door in my face and that too easily accepted the supervisor's word that he spoke “politely” to me while depicting my mother as “screaming on the phone” and describing me as a “dame aggressive,” added Michaëlla.
“We are very concerned about mounting evidence of systemic problems with the Commission's handling of complaints of racial profiling and discrimination, especially from English-speaking Black people”, said CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi. “With a decision like this one, the Commission just lost a lot of credibility in combating racism and intersectional discrimination.”
“The danger with the Bassey decision is that it condones public transit officials' abusive treatment of a Black child with intellectual disabilities, and the police's use of excessive force on the child,” he added. “If the Commission cannot protect a 12 year-old Black child with intellectual disabilities, who can it protect then?”
Ms. Bassey is considering filing for judicial review of the Commission's decision, citing serious failure to heed procedural fairness, bias, and gross negligence in the gathering and assessment of evidence.