By TOM GODFREY
Members of our community – young and old – are complaining of being racially profiled and carded every day in interactions with police officers in the GTA and some say the experience has changed their lives forever.
Take the case of Andrew Hewitt-Morris, a plaintiff in a $200-million class action lawsuit against the Ontario government and the police, who claims his life would be different today if he wasn’t carded at the early age of 12.
Hewitt-Morris, who is now 26, claims in court documents that he was first carded by Peel police in 1999 after someone in a group of youths walking home from school threw a rock at a home. The group was photographed by a resident and that led to police being called, along with his mother, for a meeting at his school to discuss the incident.
Police determined that Hewitt-Morris was not the one who threw the rock but the incident was kept on file, along with the personal information of thousands of other Blacks as revealed in Toronto Star articles that show interactions between Black community members and police are recorded for use in further investigations in much higher numbers than for Whites.
He claims the profiling and carding by police that began when he was a young offender led to him being harassed, targeted and placed under surveillance by Peel detectives.
Peel police would not comment on the allegations since the case is before the courts.
And the allegations have not been proven in court.
”This was the beginning of the racial profiling, racial discrimination, abuse of power, targeting, surveillance, false arrests, false charges and malicious prosecutions that Andrew would have to endure to the present day,” alleges a Statement of Claim by Hewitt-Morris that is part of the $200-million lawsuit against police filed by human rights lawyer Munyonzwe Hamalengwa.
The action was launched by community groups Justice is Not Colour Blind and the Black Action Defense Committee, which have also filed a $125 million class action suit against retired Peel Regional Police Chief Mike Metcalf and that force’s board for the alleged racial profiling and carding of Blacks.
Hewitt-Morris, who is a Canadian citizen, is seeking $10-million for alleged false and malicious charges, racial profiling and abuse of power. His lawsuit also claims $6-million for breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and $3-million for aggravated damages.
The Brampton native claims that by the age of 13 he was stopped a number of times by police and accused of being a member of the Taliban Blood and a Crip street gang. The suit alleges he was threatened for inclusion in a police “gang book” and accused by officers of being a violent criminal and dangerous drug dealer.
Police knew that even though Hewitt -Morris had brushes with the law, his criminal record was clean. Yet, he was thrown in jail for four days by the age of 14 for allegedly stealing candies. Those charges were thrown out.
He claims that during the next few years, he was kicked out of school for fighting but those charges were dropped. He was then charged with mischief and that was withdrawn.
Subsequent charges against him for being an accessory to murder in 2008 was thrown out, along with charges of drug possession and breach of recognition.
”This is evidence of racial profiling, negligent investigation, false arrest and false charge and malicious prosecution, ” the lawsuit alleges. ”Andrew was kept in the system for a year impeding his opportunities for employment, education and quality of life.”’
The Claim states that Hewitt-Morris’ relationship with police went downhill after he withdrew a November 2007 complaint filed to the Human Rights Commission that named several Peel cops as defendants for allegedly harassing him. He accused police of escalating their tactics against him after he withdrew the complaint.
Things became so terrible at that time that the family was terrified by police and had to move fearing danger, the lawsuit claims.
”Because of the constant harassment by Peel Regional Police, Andrew’s mother felt that she had to move away from the area to ensure his safety and that of his family,” the action says, adding Hewitt-Morris’ mother had a “genuine fear” that specific officers will cause harm to Andrew and his family for complaints filed against them.
Hamalengwa alleges Hewitt-Morris has been “subjected to untold racial profiling by Peel Regional Police over the years and continuing and he is now seeking redress, and has spent more time “under house arrest the last several years than he has been on the streets restricting his ability to work and socialize in the community all because of racial profiling.”
It is not surprising that more and more community members are calling for the humiliating carding practice to be suspended by police until the issue has been properly dealt with by the courts.