By TOM GODFREY
A Toronto man who was stopped and searched in a roadside police pat-down during which he was handcuffed has had a complaint of racial profiling against Toronto Police dismissed by a human rights tribunal.
The 46-year-old man said he didn’t even match the description of a robbery suspect when he was forcibly handcuffed and thrown against a wall by Const. John Powrie in September 2010 as he walked on Danforth near Donlands Aves.
Officers from 55 Division were searching for a “tall Black male who was wearing a hoodie and hiding his face with a red bandana” for allegedly robbing a convenience store when they encountered Peter Smith more than 2 kms from the crime scene.
A second and different description of the suspect was released by police as Smith, who did not have a bandana, was being questioned.
Smith, who is from the Caribbean, had nothing to do with the robbery and was told by police “he was at the wrong place at the wrong time”.
Two other officers, who arrived soon after he was handcuffed, later apologized to Smith for detaining him. He was released when officers realized he was the wrong man, according to a six-page decision of the case.
Smith, in his complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, named as defendants Powrie, the force, its Chief and Board. He claimed he was singled out by Powrie and subjected to unnecessary aggressive behaviour, harassment and intimidation because of his race, colour or ethnic origin.
Several officers testified during a 2013 two-day hearing that Smith was eliminated as a suspect after “a more detailed description of the suspect was issued”.
Lawyers for the officers testified that Smith was stopped because he matched the initial description of a suspect in a robbery that had just taken place in the vicinity, according to the Tribunal’s decision.
The hearing was told that Smith was “confrontational and uncooperative” and his behaviour, including his refusal to remove his hands from his pocket, led to him being briefly detained.
Smith testified that he wasn’t even wearing a hoodie, but instead a blue top with a hood and washed out jeans.
He told the tribunal he could not have walked, in eight minutes as police alleged, the more than 2 kms from the crime scene to where he was stopped.
“He (Smith) sensed that someone was following him and glanced behind him and saw a vehicle moving slowly next to the curb,” the decision said. “He (Smith) testified that Powrie was pointing a finger at him and moving quickly.”
Smith testified that Powrie grabbed his arm and asked him if he was going to co-operate before forcing him against a wall.
He told the hearing that Powrie asked him to spread his legs before he was handcuffed, during which time the officer searched his pockets throwing his keys and other items on the ground.
Smith testified that Powrie told him he had matched the description of a robbery suspect.
Powrie denied racial profiling allegations and told the hearing that Smith was a tall Black man wearing a dark hoodie, and although he did not have a red bandana he met the description that was initially issued as a suspect in the robbery.
“He (Powrie) testified that his actions were reasonable given the applicant’s behaviour, most notably the applicant’s raised voice, and his refusal to respond to directions to take his hands out of his pockets,” the tribunal said in its decision.
Smith claimed the suspect’s description given by police was so general and lacking in specifics that the key description was “Black male”.
“The applicant (Smith) submits that when race becomes the predominant reason for a police action that action constitutes racial profiling,” the decision said. “Any Black male walking on Danforth Avenue that Saturday night could have potentially been stopped as the robbery suspect.”
Tribunal vice-chair Eric Whist dismissed the application in a December 2013 ruling that did not find Smith’s rights were violated when he was stopped by police.
“I do not find that Powrie arbitrarily chose to stop the applicant because he was Black,” Whist wrote. “He did not cast his investigative net so wide that it was the applicant’s race that was the predominant reason that led to his being stopped.”
Whist said Smith matched a general description issued of the suspect, namely that he was a tall Black male wearing a black hoodie.
“The applicant’s experience in being stopped by the police questioned and subsequently placed under investigative detention and handcuffed was unexpected, unpleasant and distressing,” he wrote before dismissing Smith’s case.
Neither Smith nor his counsel was available to comment on the case when contacted by Share.