Ontario's Human Rights Tribunal orders Peel police board to pay $35K after six-year-old Black girl handcuffed at school
Peel Regional Police badge. (The Canadian Press Images/Francis Vachon)
TORONTO -- The Peel Regional Police Board has been ordered by Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal to pay $35,000 in damages after a six-year-old Black girl was handcuffed by officers at her Mississauga school more than four years ago.
“In handcuffing the applicant’s hands behind her back and holding her on her stomach with her ankles handcuffed for at least 28 minutes, the officers violated the applicant’s rights under Sec. 1 of the Human Rights Code to equal treatment in the provision of services by treating her in a way they would not have treated a white child,” tribunal adjudicator Brenda Bowlby wrote in her decision rendered on Dec. 31, 2020.
On Sept. 30, 2016, two officers with Peel Regional Police responded to a 911 call from a Peel District School Board elementary school.
It was the fourth time police were called by the school for assistance with the child that month.
Following multiple hearings regarding the encounter that took place on that day between the girl, who weighed 48 pounds at the time, and the two cops, who were both six-feet tall and 190-200 pounds, Bowlby found the officers’ actions to be “shocking” and “punitive.”
Bowlby also noted that the child became fearful of police, suffered teasing, withdrew from friends and felt humiliation, shame and guilt as a result of the incident.
“The applicant was frightened by the manner in which she was treated by the officers during the incident,” Bowlby said in her decision. “I find that this incident has caused the applicant to view the police as a source of punishment and that she is now apprehensive of police officers.”
“This is very concerning since all children should be able to have confidence that police are there to protect them, not punish them.”
Bowlby went on to state that the fact the child experienced anti-Black racism at “such a young age” is “alarming.”
“It is clear that, because of this incident, she became aware that as a Black person, she may be subject to different treatment than a white child.”
“There is a risk of future impacts that are not known because of the age of the applicant,” Bowlby added.
The application to the Human Rights Tribunal was filed on Sept. 27, 2017 by the child and her mother, who were represented by Human Rights Legal Support Centre, a service that provides free legal assistance to people in Ontario who have experienced discrimination contrary to the province’s Human Rights Code. Their identities are protected under a publication ban.
The application alleged discrimination by the respondent, the Peel Regional Police Board, with respect to services on the basis of race, colour, ethnic origin, or ancestry contrary to the Human Rights Code.
The applicant was seeking monetary compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect in the amount of $150,000, as well as approximately $20,000 for two years of psychological and trauma counselling.
In the tribunal’s decision, the applicant was awarded monetary compensation of $30,000 and $5,000 to be used to pay the costs of counselling with an accredited psychotherapist.
In a news release issued by Human Rights Legal Support Centre on Thursday, the child’s mother, who is identified only as J.B., said she is “happy this rather lengthy and difficult chapter is finally over” and will now focus on “what lies ahead, which is making my daughter whole.”
“This decision gives my community hope where we often feel there’s no recourse,” she said.
The respondent argued that no monetary compensation was required in this case as Peel Region’s police service had voluntarily entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
The commitments of the MOU include substantial changes to the way in which Peel police officers provide services to children under the age of 12. The service and its board also agreed to develop legally binding remedies to address systemic racism in policing.
J.B., who was asking the tribunal to implement further measures regarding officers at schools, including ordering revised training, said she hopes the MOU “isn’t just smartly worded and celebrated while police officers continue to have harmful interactions with Black bodies on the ground – with little risk of even professional consequences.”
“I hope it’s a meaningful step toward trusting police to be protectors of our community,” she said. “These policy changes need to affect our daily lives.”
CTV News Toronto has reached out to the Peel Regional Police Board for comment but has not received a response as of Thursday afternoon.