by Frederick H. Lowe
Canada’s Black Action Defense Committee has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the Toronto Police Department and the Toronto Police Services Board on behalf of the city’s black men.
The 40-page lawsuit seeks $50 million in Canadian currency ($47 million U.S.) in damages for racial profiling and carding African Canadians. The Black Action Defense Committee charges that these actions are a violation of African-Canadians’ constitutional rights.
Individuals formed the BADC in 1988 after Toronto police shot and killed at least 11 black men and a black woman over the previous decade. Police shot one of the black men in the back of the head. Juries either acquitted all of the police officers involved in the shootings or the cops were never charged.
Carding occurs when police stop a black man or teenager and record their personal information for future reference. “The details are entered into a computer, and if a crime occurs in the area where the person was stopped, he becomes a subject of interest,” Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, a Toronto barrister and solicitor, who filed the lawsuit, told The NorthStar News & Analysis.
In 2012, more than 1 million African-Canadian, Asian and East Indian men were carded by the police. Police mostly carded young black men, Hamalengwa said.
The lawsuit is based on a similar one that challenged New York City’s “stop and frisk laws,” Hamalengwa said.
In the U.S., carding of black men is also routinely used by the Chicago police, who refer to these cards as contact cards.
In 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a civil-rights lawsuit on behalf of Shani Davis, an Olympic Gold Medal speed skater, after Chicago police stopped Davis and two of his friends and frisked them for no reason.
Although the lawsuit cites Toronto police racially profiling black men, the legal action suggests that police departments in Canada and the United States met and agreed on how to keep black men under surveillance.
According to Toronto court documents, “Male blacks aged 15 to 24 are stopped and documented 2.5 times more than white males the same age, and blacks are carded more than whites.”
The lawsuit is the latest news to burst out of Canada’s largest city. Mayor Rob Ford has admitted to smoking crack cocaine on at least one occasion during one of his self-described ‘drunken stupors,’ and Orville Lloyd Douglas, a Toronto-based columnist for the Guardian, a British newspaper, wrote a column saying that he hated being a black man.
The lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 15, 2013, in the Ontario, Canada, Superior Court of Justice, charged that Bill Blair, Toronto Police Chief, and his officers violated three sections of Canada’s charter, the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Police Services Act and numerous other international human rights conventions and instruments and declarations.
Constable Wendy Drummond, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police Department, did not return a call for comment from The NorthStar News & Analysis.
The lawsuit also charges that the Toronto Police Services Board failed to exercise its supervisory role over Blair. Neither the police department nor the police board has responded to the lawsuit.
In addition, the lawsuit charges that the board failed to screen properly police officers before they were hired, failed to train them properly and failed to discipline them properly for racial profiling and carding during the course of their employment.
“The current chair of the Toronto Police Services Board has recently issued statements condemning carding and racial profiling,” court documents said. “The plaintiff alleges that this is mere talk. The chair has been in a position for several years without doing anything about carding and racial profiling.”
The Black Action Defense Committee wants the court to order police to stop racially profiling African-Canadians, discipline all officers who continue to engage in the practice and implement remedies to classes of individuals who have been profiled or who are prone to being profiled.
In a novel approach to resolution of this issue, BADC wants the court to order Blair and his police officers to read several books and papers, including “The Color of Justice: Policing Race in Canada,” “Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling” and Toronto Star articles reporting on carding and racial profiling.
The lawsuit is seeking class-action status.
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