By PATRICK HUNTER
First, the class-action lawsuit launched by the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) on the issue of carding and racial profiling against the police should command a lot more attention from our community than it now appears. For a long time, most of our very public mass activities to protest racism and racial discrimination have been limited mostly to demonstrations. To some degree, they have worked, if only to highlight that there are problems. The volumes of reports which have emanated from some of these actions have served to confirm that there are serious problems – and not just with the police.
There have been individual cases that have gone to the Human Rights Tribunal – and the Commission before that – resulting in successful rulings that serve to confirm that wrongs were committed – wrongs that violated our rights as citizens to equal treatment. Yet, the transformation to wider equal treatment has, at best, been snail-paced.
What the class-action lawsuits do is signal a change in tactics. Fine, it says, we have been working to mobilize the court of public opinion and, to some degree, we have succeeded. Now the courts must get involved to put a seal, if you will, on these matters that demonstrate without a doubt that the actions of the police, in this instance, negatively affect a class of people – particularly our young people. That negativity has the ultimate effect of essentially saying to our young people: “No matter how hard you try and no matter how educated you become, you are still limited in your achievements because we view you as criminals or would-be criminals.”
So, very much in the tradition of Dudley Laws and the founders of BADC, the class-action lawsuit has been launched. As I have noted before in this space, members of our community have talked about and around this kind of action over many years, particularly as it related to the education of our children. Those talks never came to fruition, for one reason or another, partly, I suspect, because of the costs involved and not having a significant source of funding to support the procedure.
Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa and BADC must have decided to initiate the suit with the hope that it would create enough of a support base that would serve as a catalyst to garner the necessary support, and not just financially. More importantly, at this point, they hope that representatives of the class – that is young Black people who have been carded, particularly the last two years – would willingly step forward.
Last Friday, BADC and the Ryerson Students’ Union hosted a “Teach-in” on racial profiling and the carding of Black youth. Speakers included lawyers who were not involved in the suit, but who had dealt with this and similar issues. The idea behind the “Teach-in” was to inform and, yes, garner support for the lawsuit.
There are three significant notes that came out of this event. One, the statement of claim in the lawsuit will have to be revised, in part to provide a better definition of the class. Without getting into the legal technicalities of what that means, let us just say that there needs to be greater clarity about whom the class is in a way that meets the standards set by the laws that govern such actions for it to get certified as a class-action.
Two, right now they need representatives of the class. In other words, the ideal representative would be a young man, preferably without a previous record, who has been carded within the past two years. The ideal person, or persons, would become the “face” of the class – the suit would be centred around them, but their experiences would be sufficiently representative of other similar experiences.
It is worth noting, and not without substance, that there is a considerable amount of courage required here. The individuals who become the “face” of this suit may be subject to harassment.
Three, Peter Rosenthal who is well-known in our community having worked on a number of issues like this, including the “oath to the Queen” challenge, has joined the team, specifically in conjunction with the Toronto suit. There were differences in views on the “class” definition between Rosenthal and Hamalengwa which they hope to clarify over the next couple of months – the grace period they have to restructure the statement of claim.
Finally, on the matter of financial support for the suit, Hamalengwa pointed out that most of this preliminary work is being done pro-bono. Where the costs will begin to mount would be after certification as a class-action. The demand for researchers to support the arguments and accompanying investigations will require strong financial support.
They did not mention whether a legal fund has been created and that perhaps should have had a stronger pitch at the “Teach-in” – that one has been created and an outline of the mechanisms for contributing.
There is a long way to go and these legal proceedings can be time consuming. But this challenge is worth supporting and the community needs to be regularly and routinely kept informed of its progress to maintain and grow interest and support.