A drive through a Parkdale neighbourhood with a friend one evening in January 2009 turned into a wrenching police encounter for Dr. Clem Marshall. The experience is one that is all too familiar to Black men in this city. But Dr. Marshall, a noted and highly trained educator whose columns have appeared in Share, did something he would like to see more members of our community do, particularly when they have suffered similar humiliation from racial profiling.
He filed a complaint through the Human Rights Legal Support Centre (HRLSC) regarding the incident which he described as “an assault on your humanity and a humiliation”.
The record shows that although Marshall fully cooperated with the officers’ request for identification he was also subjected to abusive and racist comments by the officers.
The result, according to a release from the HRLSC, is that the Toronto Police Service (TPS), the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) and Marshall reached an agreement to settle his Human Rights Application.
Not surprisingly, as is often the case in these matters, the terms of the settlement are confidential and neither the TPS nor the TPSB has admitted any liability.
Marshall admitted that the decision to go ahead with the complaint was not an easy one.
“We don’t like to come forward and deal with our pain in public. And it would be so much easier to only deal with these matters in an abstract way. So I gave it a good think before I decided to go forward with it.
“I’ve worked within my community for a long time and that has meant listening to a lot of young people. They talk about being stopped and humiliated just for being Black. That’s just being who we are, and it shouldn’t have to hurt to be human.
As an educator, I know we have to keep on encouraging them to see themselves as full human beings and to speak up about injustice,” Marshall explains. “We older folks have been given a divine trust to care for their feelings and to nurture their souls. So I didn’t feel I had the right to do any less than I have asked them to do when I was stopped in 2009.”
Marshall wants African Canadian youth to know there are others willing to listen to them and to feel confident that when they tell their stories they will be believed rather than doubted, silenced or vilified, as is too often the case.
“We all need support when our spirits are bruised. As old and experienced as I am, I probably couldn’t have gone through this without the advice and empathy I received from a wide circle of supporters.”
Marshall says he plans to continue working with youth to find more or better ways to protect their rights and help them heal after emotional assault. As an educator, he feels we can all improve the skills we need when we are faced with similar confrontations.
“Sharing what we’ve learned with our youth and rebuilding trust are critical in ensuring a safer, healthier community,” Marshall says.
He says it is essential that young people not feel abandoned by the older generation and that creating safe spaces where we can talk like family will be a way of saying “we haven’t forgotten you. We hurt to see you hurting, and your concerns are our concerns”.
Asked about similar cases, lawyer Sharan Basran, council with the HRLSC, told Share that the organization receives “a lot of calls from African Canadian men going about their daily lives: ‘I was going to the grocery store’; ‘I was going to my local store; being stopped for no good reason.” The police can then use these stops to issue ‘contact’ cards.
Basran called these occurrences “a lived reality for African Canadians that happens repeatedly and frequently” with the age range of 20 to 50 as not uncommon.