The conflation of groups of individuals with security threats is undemocratic and results in serious harms to individuals. Discrimination, racial profiling, and mistaken listing of innocents on No-Fly lists does nothing to keep us safer, and undermines our constitution and democratic principles.
Today innocent individuals – including in some cases children – have woken up to find themselves on terrorist watch lists in a manner described by one Federal court Canadian Judge as waking up to a “Kafkaesque nightmare”, in which you don’t know the charges against you and don’t have any clear way of fighting back.
We believe everyone should be able to be a part of society without being discriminated against or profiled due to their skin colour or ethnic origin. We work tirelessly to defend marginalized groups and individuals facing this kind of threat by fighting for proper legal safeguards, accountability and oversight of powers.
Racism is systemic, and we strive to change the system to promote equity for all people in Canada.
At Canadian law schools, students learn that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and that everyone has a right to equality. And yet racial profiling and racist treatment by the justice system is proven again and again.
So does the public have to presume innocence when viewing a video of George Floyd being asphyxiated to death by police? The US reaction to his death has diverged along racial lines, even amongst those horrified by this cruel injustice. These differences in perspective are even more pronounced when there is no publicly available video or clear factual record – as is the case with the recent tragic death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet here in Toronto.
Canadian activists, professionals, and individuals have expressed their grief and pain over the loss of this young woman, while raising serious questions and concerns about police conduct, accountability, and justice. In addition, there is a growing number of voices demanding deep-seated reforms, including the reallocation of funds from policing to social and community services.
Another frequent response to Regis’s death, including by well-intentioned individuals, is the statement that in order to comment on Regis’s death, we must wait for the result of the Special Investigation Unit’s investigation because we do not yet have the facts and need to ascertain the truth.
This latter seemingly even-handed conclusion overlooks some simple but critical realities: we do have facts, and we do know truths. So while the SIU processes the evidence and details of Regis’s fall, we do not need to wait to proclaim that there is overwhelming evidence justifying the unease, distrust, and demands for justice expressed by so many in Canada these past few days.
It is a fact that Black people are disproportionately represented in interactions with Toronto police which have resulted in use of force, shootings and civilian deaths. A 2016 Ontario Human Rights Commission interim report found that while Black people made up 8.8% of the Toronto population, they made up 28.8% of police use of force cases, and 70% of police shootings that resulted in civilian death. Most concerning, the report found that the over-representation of Black civilians appeared to increase the more serious the police conduct.
It is also a fact that a large proportion (29.6%) of Toronto Police use of force cases involved people exhibiting mental health issues. And there have been longstanding concerns about police handling of these situations. Thus, the alarm at Regis’ fall from the 24th floor of her apartment. This is not the first SIU investigation involving a balcony fall. The case at hand raises an obvious question: In her hour of need, did the officers see Regis, a Black-First Nations woman, as a person whose life mattered? Did they do everything in their power to protect her?
Finally, it is an unfortunate fact that the promise of a report by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) too frequently offers little comfort or confidence to bereaved families that they will receive answers or justice. Justice Michael Tulloch’s 2017 report cites many public concerns with the Unit’s effectiveness, impartiality, and secrecy. Indeed, the SIU Director himself reported on his difficulty conducting many investigations due to a lack of cooperation by the Toronto Police Service. And given recent reported details in the media, it is not premature to express concerns about police conduct and the integrity of the investigation into her death.
The SIU has also been criticized for its limited transparency and accountability, as noted in Justice Tulloch’s report. Among other things, the SIU has functioned for many years without keeping race-based data about the individuals who suffered a serious injury or death in connection with police. And substantively, the SIU’s exceptionally low charge rate (five percent) has raised serious concerns about its effectiveness.
For example, a 2016 SIU report cleared police of any criminal wrongdoing and laid no charges following its investigation of the police shooting of Andrew Loku. Andrew was a black man with mental health issues who was shot by Toronto police officers in his apartment building. It was only due to tremendous public pressure, including protests by Black Lives Matter and many others, that an inquest was called. The inquest jury verdict in 2017 was that the cause of his of death was “gunshot wounds to the left chest,” by “homicide.”
The devastating truth is that Andrew Loku, D’Andre Campbell, Eishia Hudson, and far too many other Black and Indigenous people have been fatally shot in Canada by police, with little transparency, accountability or justice to follow.
Because of the support of our donors, we were able to fight racial profiling at the highest court in Canada and win.
Tom Le and four of his friends were sitting in his backyard when police walked in. Tom is Asian, and his four friends are all Black. The officers went to the house, saw no wrongdoing, walked through the gateway without warning, consent, or a warrant. The police then proceeded to ask the racialized men questions about themselves, including asking for ID.
In May 2019, the Supreme Court rendered a monumental decision recognizing that police carding in a private backyard constitutes arbitrary detention, a violation of the Charter and a breach of the accused’s right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure.
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