By TOM GODFREY
Some 100 farm workers, mostly from Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, are accusing the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) of racially profiling them to obtain DNA samples in a police search for a suspect of a sexual assault described as “male Black”.
The workers, who are represented by Justicia for Migrant Workers, have filed a complaint against Elgin County OPP to the Office of Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) claiming they were profiled for DNA sample collection due to their skin colour.
Chris Ramsaroop, an outreach worker for Justicia, said DNA samples were collected from the workers in October and November following the last October 19 sexual assault of a woman in a home in Bayham, near Leamington, about 250 kms from Toronto.
The victim described the suspect as a Black male, muscular, between five-foot-ten and six feet tall, in his mid to late 20s, with no facial hair.
Ramsaroop alleged OPP officers visited farms in the area and took samples from about 100 Afro- and Indo-Caribbean workers of all ages and sizes, even though they did not match the suspect’s description.
“We believe that this is one of the largest DNA sweeps targeting racialized people in Canadian history,” he alleged. “This practice of targeting and profiling Black workers should not be happening in Ontario.”
The complaint accused the OPP of targeting workers “based on the colour of their skin even though officers had a description of a suspect and should have narrowed the scope of the investigation.”
“Some of the workers had nothing in common with the suspect,” Ramsaroop said. “These workers were targeted and made to feel like criminals and they did nothing wrong.”
He said the workers, many of whom have been coming to Canada to work for years, are shaken up by the incident and want their DNA samples destroyed.
The complaint alleged the OPP approached the workers on their farms and asked them to accompany them to a police cruiser, where the nature of the investigation was explained and they were asked to “voluntarily” provide a DNA sample to assist the police in their investigation.
“The workers would then be required to sign a waiver-like document before being taken to a nearby police van to provide a DNA sample,” the three-page document stated.
“We believe that the OPP officers conducted the DNA sweep in a manner that racially profiled the affected migrant farm workers,” the complaint alleged. “The officers responsible for the investigation considered all Black and brown males within its jurisdiction to be suspects in the sexual assault.”
The workers told Justicia they did not feel intimidated by the officers, who they said acted in a professional manner.
“The majority of those interviewed expressed concerns about what they had experienced,” the document claimed, adding the workers were “shocked, upset and frightened” by the police order and felt they had to comply or would appear to be guilty.
The workers said they believed the “police would not act the same way if the suspect was White”.
“The officers responsible for the DNA sweep were motivated in whole or in part by racial profiling and prejudice towards the migrant farm workers because of the colour of their skin,” the complaint alleged.
Justicia claim the workers were detained briefly by police in their vehicles and their rights were violated under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The complaint is calling for the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) to review the incident and issues of systemic racism and make recommendations to correct inequalities.
OPP Sgt. Dave Rektor said his officers do not conduct racial profiling on any group because it violates the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Our investigation was handled in a thorough and professional manner,” Rektor told Share.
Henry Cooper, 35, a seasonal worker from Trinidad & Tobago, has been charged with sexual assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and uttering death threats. He is before the courts.
An estimated 19,000 seasonal workers travel to Canada yearly from the Caribbean, Mexico, South America and other countries to work in Ontario’s apple and tobacco farms.
The OIPRD is an arms-length agency of the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General whose goal is to provide an objective, impartial office to receive, manage and oversee the investigation of public complaints against police.