Support from the community is growing over a $65-million class action lawsuit challenging the carding and racial profiling of Blacks which has been filed against Toronto Police Service Chief Bill Blair and chair of its civilian board, says a Toronto lawyer.
The suit was launched by the Black Action Defense Committee in Ontario Superior Court on Nov. 15 and Blair and Police Service Board Chair Alok Mukherjee have until mid-December to respond, lawyer Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa said on Tuesday.
Hamalengwa said the defendants have 20 days to respond to the claim, which can take years to wind through the court system.
”The public opinion that we have been receiving has been massive and very supportive,” he said. ”It seems that the message is finally getting across to the community.”
The suit was filed last Monday, hours before Mukherjee held a well-attended community meeting at City Hall to discuss a report on the controversial practice that has plagued the Black community for years.
The 40-page suit alleges police and the board failed to adequately address the carding and racial profiling concerns that have negatively affected Blacks and other minority groups for decades. The community is calling for all forms of carding and racial profiling by police to be stopped.
”The community has been protesting against this practice for a long time,” Dr. Hamalengwa said. ”This is racial profiling which is against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and against the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
Hamalengwa, and other anti-carding supporters, claim the degrading practice can lead to Blacks obtaining criminal records since all their interactions with police are documented and can be used against them in the investigation of crimes.
”The community has decided to go the way of litigation against the police,” he said. ”There is now an overwhelming resistance to racial profiling by police and public opinion is germaine to the lawsuit.”
He said those who allegedly have been carded or racially profiled by police can still join the lawsuit, which will be posted on his website to keep the community informed.
BADC board member Valerie Steele accused police of over-policing the Black communities and described the profiling as being similar to “pass laws” in place under the Apartheid system in South Africa to monitor and control the movement of Blacks.
“It has been decades that the men and women of the Toronto Police Service have been abusing the African Canadian communities at every turn,” Steele said in a statement. “The police seem to conveniently forget that they work for us and that our hard earned tax dollars pay their salaries and benefits.
Steele said most Blacks don’t trust the police and the situation is not getting better.
“We are now marching into litigation to ensure that our right to live in peace and go about our business without interference from the police is protected, just as the mainstream White community goes about its daily lives without being over policed.”
The City Hall meeting heard more than a million people were carded from 2009 to 2011, a figure that is quoted in a Police and Community Engage Review (PACER) report that reviewed the practice and came up with 31 recommendations that were to be discussed.
The PACER report states that one in three cards filled out by its officers cites “general investigation”, a reason that has been criticized by rights advocates for being too vague. The report states that only one in 10 cards is the result of intelligence-led policing, a reason the force says it cards in certain violent areas of the city.
Police filled out nearly 400,000 cards in 2012, an increase of 62 per cent since 2005, according to a Toronto Star investigation that also found the number of Black youth (ages 15 to 24) that had been carded over a five-year period was more than equal to the number of Black youth who lived in the city.
Toronto Police officials have refused to comment on the lawsuit since the matter is before the courts.
The lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by Share, dismisses a claim by Mukherjee that he was devastated by the findings of the report.
”The Chair has been in that position for several years without doing anything about carding and racial profiling,” the suit alleges. ”There has been massive evidence of this malaise without any intervention from the Chair and the Toronto Police Services Board.”
The document alleges ”no police officer has been disciplined for these negative practices”.
The suit claims the Board has ”failed or has done nothing to pressure the government of Ontario and the Ministry of the Attorney General to introduce anti-racial profiling legislation and to criminalize racial profiling or to protect African-Canadians”.
The lawsuit alleges Blair ”failed to exercise his supervisory and managerial authority or power over the police officers and failed to ensure that they were properly trained; effectively screened; adhered to all rules and policies, laws and the requirements of the Charter, Police Services Act, and the Ontario Human Rights Code”.
”Blair failed to ensure that the police did not and do not engage in carding and racial profiling or followed all the recommendations against racial profiling put forward by commissions of inquiry and numerous other studies,” the lawsuit alleges.
By Tom Godfrey