By TOM GODFREY
A review is being launched into the OPP’s mass-collection of DNA samples from dozens of Caribbean and other seasonal workers while probing sexual assault allegations last summer at a farm near Tillsonburg.
A probe into the OPP is being welcomed by Justicia for Migrant Workers, a community group that filed a complaint following the collection of DNA from about 100 Black workers of all descriptions, even those who did not match the suspect.
The agricultural workers were subjected to DNA tests in the fields where they worked with others as police probed a woman’s allegations that she was sexually assaulted by a Black man at a home in Bayham, Ont., in October 2013.
The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) said they are looking into the allegations.
Director Gerry McNeilly, in a release, suggested officers of the OPP Elgin County Detachment may have been involved in racial profiling.
He said “dozens of migrant workers asked to submit to DNA tests for a criminal investigation did not match the description of the suspect except for their dark skin colour”.
It “raises the spectre of racial profiling and Charter rights issues”, McNeilly said, adding his office will “explore underlying causes and broader practices to determine whether systemic failings have occurred”.
Justicia had complained that Black workers of all ages, sizes and weight had to undergo the DNA tests, or they were made to feel guilty of a crime if they refused.
“We welcome the OIPRD’s decision to conduct a systemic review into the OPP’s racial profiling of migrant farm workers,” the group’s lawyer, Shane Martinez, told Share by email.
“This review has the potential to further expose the egregious police misconduct that was perpetrated during the DNA sweep last October,” he said.
Martinezalleges samples were taken only fromCaribbeanand Afro-Caribbean men. Many of the workers have been returning yearly to work at the same farms inCanada.
Henry Cooper, 35, a migrant worker from Trinidad & Tobago, has been charged with sexual assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and uttering death threats. He is before the courts.
The OIPRD vowed to get to the bottom of the allegations.
The Office, in the statement, said it will examine public complaints filed, and review and analyze evidence collected from OPP investigations, including audio and video recordings, photographs, documents, interviews and forensic evidence.
It will look at OPP policies, procedures and practices, training material and instruction, along with case law, reports, research, data and practices from other jurisdictions.
A review panel will decide whether to hear from stakeholders and the public and a report will be written of its findings and recommendations for the improvement of police practices.
The OIRPD can examine and review issues of a systemic nature that are the subject of public complaints. Its findings are circulated toOntario’s Solicitor General, Attorney General, the OPP Commissioner, chiefs of police and police services boards.