By Dr. MUNYONZWE HAMALENGWA
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper refuses to convoke a Commission of Inquiry in the endemic problem of the disappearance of Aboriginal women. He says it is a criminal matter, not a political matter and it should be left alone to the criminal justice system. He fails to see the connection between politics and law, principally the politics of the criminal justice system. This will be a topic for another day.
Meanwhile, even when there are Commissions of Inquiry into the injustices affecting minorities in Canada, the recommendations of these inquiries are never implemented. For example, none of the recommendations of the path-breaking Commission of Inquiry into Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System (1995) have ever been implemented. None of the numerous recommendations of studies on policing and racial profiling and carding in Ontario have been implemented.
None of the cases of police brutality in Ontario have been selected as teachable moments by the criminal justice system, the governments or a coalition of civil rights groups on a sustained level. Thus, we can learn a lot from the U.S. on how to deal and handle such cases.
In the wake of the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a coalition of civil rights groups and individuals have teamed up to come up with the following demands, which the local and federal authorities cannot and will not resist:
1. An independent and comprehensive federal investigation by the Department of Justice of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown;
2. A comprehensive federal review and reporting of all police killings, accompanied by immediate action to address the unjustified use of lethal and excessive force by the police officers in jurisdictions throughout this country against unarmed people of colour;
3. A comprehensive federal review and reporting of excessive use of force generally against youth and people of colour and the development of national use of force standards;
4. A comprehensive federal review and reporting of racially disproportionate policing, examining rates of stops, frisks, searches;
5. A comprehensive federal review and reporting of the police department’s racial profiling and racially biased practices and capabilities;
6. A final update and release of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) June 2003 Guidance Regarding the use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies (hereinafter “Guidance”), with substantive reforms including updates that would: make the Guidance enforceable; apply the Guidance to state and local law enforcement who work in partnership with the federal government or receive federal funding; close the loopholes for the border and national security; cover surveillance activities; prohibit profiling based on religion, nations, origin and sexual orientation;
7. Required racial bias training and guidance against the use of force for state and local law enforcement that receive grants;
8. The required use of police officer Body Worn Cameras (BWC) to record every police-civilian encounter in accordance with any policy requiring civilian notification and applicable law, including during SWAT deployments, along with rigorous standards regarding the retention, use, access and disclosure of data captured by such systems;
9. The universal use of dash cameras in police vehicles;
10. Concrete steps to ensure that federal military weapons do not end up in the hands of local law enforcement and, if they do, to prevent the misuse of those weapons in communities of colour;
11. On the ground community training to educate residents of their rights when dealing with law enforcement;
12. The elimination of the “broken windows” policing policy initiated in the 1980s which encouraged overly aggressive police encounters for minor offenses and the promotion of community-based policing;
13. Greater and more effective community oversight over the local law enforcement and policing tactics;
14. And the establishment of a law enforcement commission to review policing tactics that would include in its composition leaders/experts from civil rights advocacy groups who represent the most impacted communities.
If only Ontario or the rest of Canada could make half the above noted demands, our criminal justice system would be so much the better. Just the last recommendation alone would go a long way.
Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa practices criminal law and civil litigation against public authorities.