Extending Black life beyond death

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Regis Korchinski-Paquet (October 4th 1990 – May 27th 2020), photo provided by Newediuk Funeral Home

Yes our Black lives matter, but more than that, our Black lives are sacred and invaluable, our spirits eternal. To say that our Black lives matter, here and now, is to say we matter forever, that time can never erase our worth. When a Black person dies, their life still matters, in the present tense. As we fight for every Black life being lived now, and for all those to come, we have yet another responsibility: to hold the preciousness of Black life beyond death.

On May 27 2020, Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell from the balcony of her 24th floor apartment building and died, after being confronted by several Toronto police officers. The Special Investigation Unit, which last week decided not to lay criminal charges against the cops who responded, says Korchinski-Paquet fell from the balcony at 5:39 p.m., and was pronounced dead just after 6 p.m. The report does not mention that Korchinski-Paquet’s body then remained on the ground, in front of the building and in proximity to her grieving family members, for more than five hours.

There has been almost no public reporting or conversation about this blatant act of disrespect and collective callousness by our public officials. The state and its agents can treat Black death as our natural state, devoid of any sanctity or need for care. Such neglect mirrors white indifference to our living struggle, and demonstrates that, within the context of this global white supremacist nightmare, our lives do not matter.

Six summers ago, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson murdered Mike Brown, a Black teenager who was walking in a Ferguson street with his friend. Brown’s body then lay in the street for four and a half hours. We know this because those who fought for Brown insisted we know. In December of 2014, Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Oakland shut down all local train traffic by locking themselves down to the safety rails inside a subway station. Their goal was to stay there for four and a half hours, to remind the world of the indignity of Brown’s death and the sacredness of his life.

Most people don’t know about the neglect that followed Korchinski-Paquet’s death, especially because the media failed to report it. CBC News, for example, cited the hours-long delay in attending to Korchinski-Paquet’s body as an unproven allegation by her family: “As controversy around Korchinski-Paquet’s story swirled, her family gathered for a news conference Thursday outside the highrise where they say she lay dead for some five hours before her body was retrieved.” [my emphasis]

I’m heartbroken that such an important and observable truth can be so easily trivialized as “they say”. On the night Korchinski-Paquet died, I arrived more than four hours after she fell, and I stood near an orange tarp on the lawn in front of the building. Several men in long coats finally removed that tarp around 11:20 p.m, and placed Korchinski-Paquet’s body, which was inside a quilted body bag, into and unmarked van.

Korchinski-Paquet’s body lay within meters of her grieving family, her neighbours, the police, and the swarm of reporters who gave live updates from the scene, for five hours and forty minutes. It should have been reported then, and it must never be forgotten as we continue to assert that Korchinski-Paquet’s life matters.

At a memorial service on July 25, Korchinski-Paquet’s family members gathered at that spot on the lawn of her High Park apartment building, and released twenty-nine white doves into the air, one for every year of their beloved’s life. I felt deep sadness but also gratitude as I watched the birds take flight. This honouring of a Black woman’s spirit, of the eternal within her and all of us, felt restorative and real.

I struggled to hold that feeling this past week as the SIU, as it almost does in nearly every case, refused to hold police legally accountable for Korchinski-Paquet’s death. The public details of the SIU’s investigation are grotesque, as are assertions from the family’s legal team that a second autopsy of Korchinski-Paquet’s body contains more clues about her death. The battle for legal accountability points us to the physical remains of a person whose body we failed to protect in life, and dishonoured in death. We owe Korchinski-Paquet and her family so much more than this.

Those who continue to say “Justice for Regis” know the peril of ongoing police responses to Black people and families in crisis. We know the true function of a months-long SIU investigation that will now be weaponized against Korchinski-Paquet’s family and the Black community at large.

We must also know and speak about the neglect and indifference we so often experience in death. Our liberation includes acts of dignity, ritual, and remembrance, in honour of the humanity that white supremacy is constantly trying to deny us. When we respond to fatal instances of anti-Blackness with acts of respect, love, and care, we extend Black life beyond our moment, back to the ancestors who made a path for us, and into a future where we can finally be free.

Regis Korchinski-Paquet fell to her death last night—her family says the police killed her

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Flowers for Regis Korchinski-Paquet lay in front of her apartment building in High Park

A 29-year-old Afro-Indigenous Toronto woman named Regis Korchinski-Paquet is dead after falling from the 24th floor of a High Park apartment building last night—her mother says the police pushed her. On a video released early yesterday evening, Claudette Clayton stood in front of her High Park Avenue apartment and spoke into the camera. “The police killed my daughter, came in my apartment and shoved her off the balcony,” Clayton said. She added that police “told [local news outlet] CP24 not to come here, that it’s a suicide. But the police killed her.”

At 11:20 p.m., six hours hours after the initial police response, Korchinski-Paquet’s body  was still resting under an orange sheet near the southeast corner of the building, and patches of her blood remained on the grass. At this time several people in long coats transferred her remains into a quilted bag and placed them into an unmarked van.

Multiple Toronto Police officers stood near the building entrance and off to the side. Neighbours and family members had gathered in front of the building, while many others watched from their balconies inside.

Police say they responded to a call from the building around 5:15 p.m. Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which is tasked with police oversight, described the police’s version of events in its traditionally passive and vague language: “While officers were inside an apartment unit on the 24th floor, they observed a woman on the balcony. A short time later, the woman fell from the balcony to the ground below.”

In a statement released this morning, the SIU says it “is aware of certain allegations made by family members of the deceased and will be looking to speak with anyone with information about these allegations.” Anyone with information can call the SIU lead investigator at 1-800-787-8529.

The hashtag #JusticeForRegis has been trending on social media since last night.

A neighbour confirmed that she called CP24 and asked them to come to the scene. “The person on the phone said the police had called them, and told them not to come because it’s a suicide,” the neighbour said. According to several neighbours, the police officers who initially responded to the call left the scene after Korchinski-Paquet’s death.

A neighbour in front of the building played a video on her phone of Korchinski-Paquet riding a bicycle alongside a car, and laughing with the person filming her from inside the car as Notorious B.I.G. blasted in the background. “If you want to know what kind of person she was, this is who she was,” the neighbour said.

Clayton’s statement that police pushing her daughter off the balcony appeared in a video filmed by Korchinski-Paquet’s cousin, who also appeared in the video and said of the police, “they’re trying to sweep this shit under the rug.”

Korchinski-Paquet’s death follows a number of recent police killings of Black and Indigenous people across Canada, including three homicides in three days last month. On April 7 2020, an unnamed Peel Regional Police officer shot and killed 26-year-old D’Andre Campbell inside his own home, after Campbell himself called 911. On April 8 2020, an unnamed Winnipeg police officer shot and killed 16-year-old Eishia Hudson after pursuing her and her friends in a car. On April 9 2020, unnamed Winnipeg police officers shot and Killed 36-year-old Jason Collins in front of his home after being called there for a domestic dispute.

Remembering 27 Black, Indigenous, and racialized people killed by Canadian police

Last week Canadian police officers shot and killed two indigenous people, Jason Collins and Eishia Hudson, and one Black person, D’Andre Campbell. While Canadian media is quick to identify patterns of racial violence in the United States, there has been no such coverage for Campbell, Hudson, and Collins, three people killed by police in three days. White supremacy and state violence in Canada persists, and coverage of the current COVID-19 health crisis, which is said to impact us all, obscures the specific ongoing crises of Black and Indigenous health, safety, and survival.

In perhaps the most high-profile police killing in Canadian history, Toronto police officer James Forcillo shot and killed 18 year old Sammy Yatim, a Syrian-born immigrant, in July of 2013. Since Yatim’s murder, at least 26 people who were Black, Indigenous, or belonged to another racialized group have been killed by Canadian police, or have died in their custody. Our fight against police brutality needs to be informed by those whom police have taken from us—we need to know their names and honour their lives.

This memorial is inspired by the “Fact Sheet on Police Violence against the African Community in Canada“, a project by labour organizer and educator Dr. Ajamu Nangwaya, who last updated his work in 2013. In keeping Nangwaya’s work, I describe all people of African descent as “Afrikan”, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity.

I identify people from specific First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities by their specific nations in all cases where such information is available; otherwise I cite the person as “Indigenous”. Each name contains a link to a news story with more information.

This memorial can never be complete, nor can it do justice to the memories of those taken from us by police. Still, we honour and remember those taken from us by racism and state violence. We offer love to their families, friends, and communities. We also fight, as James Wilt has written recently in response to police violence in Winnipeg, “to ensure such killings never happens again, by abolishing the police and replacing it with truly life-sustaining services that build a better world for all.”

If you’d like to share an update or correction to any of this information, please e-mail heydesmondcole@gmail.com

 


 

Jason Collins, 36, an Indigenous man, was shot and killed in Winnipeg by unnamed Winnipeg police officers on April 9, 2020. Police responded to a domestic violence call, and claim they left the house after arriving to help de-escalate the situation. Police shot Collins 40 minutes after they arrived at his home, after saying he walked out the front door and threatened them.

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Eishia Husdon, a 16-year-old indigenous girl, was shot and killed in Winnipeg, Manitoba by unnamed Winnipeg Police officers on April 8, 2020. Police said they were responding to a robbery of a liquor store by several teenagers, whom they pursued in a car before opening fire. Eishia’s father William Hudson was a close friend of Jason Collins, the 36 year old man shot dead by Winnipeg police only 12 hours after they killed his teenage daughter.

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D’Andre Campbell, 26, an Afrikan man, was shot and killed in Brampton, Ontario by an unnamed Peel Regional police officer on April 7, 2020. Campbell, who lived with mental health issues, called police for help. Police entered Campbell’s his home, and family members say two police each used a taser on him, then one officer shot him with a handgun while he was on the ground.

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Randy Cochrane, 30, of Fisher River Cree Nation, died in Winnipeg in the custody of unnamed Winnipeg police officers on July 14, 2019. Doctors say Cochrane died of a heart attack. Witnesses say they saw Cochrane running through residential backyards while shouting for help while being chased by police. His family says he died in handcuffs.

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Sean Thompson, 30, of Little Saskatchewan First Nation and Pinaymootang First Nation, died in the custody of unnamed Winnipeg police officers on June 26, 2019. Police say he went into medical distress after being arrested. Thompson’s family say police did not notify them of his death for 30 hours. When they were finally able to see his body, the family saw numerous injuries to his wrists and knees.

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Machuar Madut, 43, an Afrikan man who immigrated to Canada from South Sudan, was shot and killed in his Winnipeg, Manitoba apartment building by an unnamed Winnipeg police officer on February 23, 2019. Madut’s family said he lived with mental health issues, and had recently learned he would be evicted. Police said they had no option but to shoot Madut after confronting him with a hammer in his hand.

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Greg Ritchie, 30, of Saugeen First Nation, was shot and killed in Ottawa, Ontario by Ottawa police officers Thanh Tran and Daniel Vincelette on January 31, 2019. His family said Ritchie, who lived with mental health issues, was on his way to a local pharmacy to pick up his medication when police shot him. Police say Ritchie was carrying a stick with a rock attached to it. One officer shot Ritchie twice with a taser. Both officers then fired a total of nine times at Ritchie, hitting him three times.

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Chad Williams, a 26 year old Indigenous man, was shot and killed in Winnipeg, Manitoba by a unnamed Winnipeg police officers on January 11, 2019. Police chased Williams after saying he fit the description of a man wanted for domestic assault. Police said Williams had a hatchet in one hand, and repeatedly  shot him with a taser. Police then shot Williams six times with their handguns.

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Jaskamal Singh Lail, 25, an Indo-Canadian man, was shot and killed in Calgary by an unnamed Calgary Police officer on August 31, 2018. His family said he lived with schizophrenia, and struggled for years to find support within the health care system. On the night they took his life, police saw Lail driving in circles in his vehicle. Although they believed Lail was in mental health crisis, police left him alone. Hours later they were called to Lail’s residence a noise complaint, where they confronted the young man, shot him with a plastic bullet, then continued shooting with live rounds.

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Nicholas Gibbs, 23, an Afrikan man, was shot and killed in Montréal, Québec by an unnamed Montréal police officer on August 21, 2018. Gibbs’ family said he lived with mental health issues. Police shot Gibbs five times, including once in the back, after claiming they approached him to break up a fight between Gibbs and another man.

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Olando Brown, an Afrikan man, 32, died in Barrie, Ontario the custody of unnamed Barrie Police officers on June 22, 2018. Police had arrested Brown during a traffic stop and shot him four times with a Taser. Police claim that Brown died after trying to swallow drugs that were in his possession after his arrest. Police covered the camera inside the room where they were searching Brown. SIU investigators were not able to see what happened to Brown in those moments, and accepted the police’s version of events.

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Josephine Pelletier, 33, of the Cree Nation and Salteaux First Nation, was shot and killed in Calgary by an unnamed Calgary Police officer on May 17, 2018. Pelletier’s formal education ended at age 12, and she spent the vast majority of her teenage and adult years in jails and prisons, and never received proper support for addictions. Police confronted Pelletier and her teenage son inside a basement apartment, shot the boy with rubber bullets, then shot and killed Pelletier with live ammunition.

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Brydon Whitstone, 22, of Onion Lake Cree Nation was shot and killed by RCMP officer Jerry Abbott in North Battleford, Saskatchewan on October 21, 2017. Police claimed they believed Whitstone was reaching for a weapon when they shot him in a stolen car that evening, but the investigation found that Whitstone was not armed. Police aid they began chasing Whitstone and a friend in their vehicle after receiving a report of someone shooting at people from a car. Police later acknowledged this report was not related to Whitstone.

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Pierre Coriolan, 58, an Afrikan man who immigrated to Canada from Haiti, was shot and killed in Montréal, Québec by Montreal police officer Jimmy-Carl Michon on June 27, 2017. Coriolan was living with mental health issues and had just learned he would be evicted. Coriolan was sitting in his apartment when police arrived and confronted him. Police hot Coriolan with a taser and rubber bullets after claiming he was armed with a knife and a screwdriver.

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Abdirahman Abdi, 37, an Afrikan man who immigrated to Canada from Somalia, was fatally assaulted in Ottawa, Ontario by Ottawa police officers officers Daniel Montsion and Dave Weir in front of his apartment building on July 24, 2016. Abdi, who lived with his family in the apartment, was living with mental health issues. Weir described Abdi as an imminent threat to his own safety, even though he chased Abdi for 250 meters from a coffee shop to his front door. Montsion arrived and repeatedly punched Abdi in the head with a pair of reinforced gloves that are not authorized for police use.

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Bony Jean-Pierre, 46, an Afrikan man, was shot in Montréal, Québec by Montréal Police officer Christian Gilbert on March 31, 2016. Jean-Pierre was running from police during a raid, and attempted to climb out a second floor window. Gilbert saw Jean-Pierre climbing out the window and shot him in the head rubber bullet. Jean Pierre fell from the window, and died of his injuries in hospital several days later.

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Kwasi Skene-Peters, 21, an Afrikan man, was shot and killed in Toronto by two unnamed Toronto police officers on July 25, 2015. Although police were surveilling Skene-Peter for hours and claimed he had a handgun stashed in his car, they allowed him to walk through a parking lot to his car before approaching him and fatally shooting him.

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Andrew Loku, 45, an Afrikan man who immigrated to Canada from South Sudan, was shot and killed in the hallway of his apartment building in Toronto, Ontario by Toronto police officer Andrew Doyle on July 5, 2015. Loku lived with mental health issues in a unit leased to him by the Canadian Mental Health Association. Police were called to the apartment after Loku had an argument with a neighbour.  Loku was in the hallway with his friend Robin Hicks a police officer entered with her drawn. Another officer arrived and shot Loku twice within seconds of seeing him with a hammer in one hand.

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Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan, 39, an Afrikan man, was killed in Peterborough, Ontario by a Peterborough Police officer and an Ontario Provincial Police officer, on June 11, 2015. Hassan, a refugee from Somalia who came to Canada in 1993, lived with schizophrenia. Hassan had been held in immigration detention for three years, and had become progressively more ill. On the night of his death, police entered his room in a Peterborough hospital and restrained him by pinning him to his bed and using a towel to cover his mouth.

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René Gallant, 45, an Afrikan man, was shot and killed in Montréal, Québec by Montréal Police officer Daniel Touchette on May 31, 2015. Police responded to a call regarding domestic violence and shot Gallant in the presence of his partner.

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Marc Ekamba-Boekwa, 22, and Afrikan man, was shot and killed in Mississauga, Ontario, during a confrontation with Peel Regional Police officers Jennifer White, Adam Paiment, and Branden Dary on March 20, 2015. Police shot at Ekamba-Boekwa 18 times, hitting him with eleven bullets. Police also arrested his mother, Boketsu Boekwa, who lives with metal health issues, and charged her with several crimes, including conspiracy to kill police officers and other charges.

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Phuong Na (Tony) Du, 51, who immigrated to Canada from Vietnam, was shot and killed by an unnamed Vancouver Police Department officer on November 22, 2014. Du’s family said he was living with schizophrenia and taking medication for his illness. Police confronted Du in the street and shot him multiple times within 25 seconds of their arrival on the scene.

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Jermaine Carby, 33, an Afrikan man, was shot and killed in Brampton, Ontario by Peel Regional Police officer Ryan Reid on September 24, 2014. Carby was living with mental health issues, including depression, and had been in hospital seeking treatment just days before Reid killed him. Police claimed Carby brandished a knife and threatened police officers during a traffic stop, but SIU investigators didn’t recover a knife on the scene. Hours after the killing, a Peel Regional police officer gave SIU investigators a paper bag containing a knife—the officer claimed he had removed it from the scene after Carby was killed.

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Nicholas Thorne-Belance, 5, an Afikan boy, was struck in Longueuil, Québec by Sûrete du Québec officer Patrick Ouellet on February 13, 2014. Ouellet was driving 134 km/h on a 50km/hr residential street zone when he struck a vehicle carrying Thorne-Belance in the backseat. Thorne-Belance died in hospital days later. His sister was also injured in the crash. Police initially cleared Ouellet of any wrongdoing, and he was only charged after public demonstrations led to an independent investigation. Ouellet was convicted of dangerous driving and causing Thorne-Belance’s death—he was sentenced to eight months in jail.

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Alain Magloire, 41, and Afrikan man, was shot and killed in Montréal, Québec by an unnamed Montréal Police officer on February 3, 2014. Magloire was homeless at the time and was living with mental illness. Magloire went to hospital more than once in the months leading up to his death, and asked for help from a social worker or psychologist. His family members say he should have been offered treatment.

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Ian Pryce, 30, an Afrikan man, was shot and killed in Toronto by Toronto police officers Robert Monteiro and Thomas Mackenzie on November 13, 2013. Pryce lived with schizophrenia. Police say they were executing a warrant for Pryce’s arrest, and shot him after confronting him with a pellet gun in his hands.

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Sammy Yatim, 18, who immigrated to Canada from Syria four year earlier, was shot and killed in Toronto, Ontario by Toronto Police constable James Forcillo on July 27, 2013. Yatim was alone on a streetcar when Forcillo approached shot him eight times. Before the police arrived, Yatim, who was in distress and holding a knife, had told the streetcar driver he wanted to speak with his father.

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Fight COVID-19 with universal protection, not selective punishment

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As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau threatens enforcement measures against people who gather in large groups and fail to distance themselves from others

It seems so simple to many of us. A virus we haven’t seen before is threatening human life, so we should stay home and wait it out. As more Canadians test positive for COVID-19, our anxiety grows: why isn’t everyone following government warnings to avoid large social gatherings, and keeping at least two meters apart from one another? And since not everyone is listening, shouldn’t we force them to do so for the collective good through policing and punishment?

We’re learning that getting every individual in Canada to shift their lifestyle on a dime, and to indefinitely follow a new and specific set of evolving rules, is really hard. Living strictly for the collective interest is not something we practice. Using force in the name of the greater good accomplishes something clear: it draws moral line between those who behave and those who don’t. Our problem is that COVID-19 isn’t interested in our moral line, and will not be contained by our scapegoating of certain human beings.

There are basically two things the police can do to individuals who don’t self-isolate or maintain their distance from others: catch them and release them with a punishment, or catch them and detain them somewhere. These definitive punishments may comfort some of us, but they won’t stop the spread of disease. Asking the cops to hand out fines simply increases human contact and helps spread the virus. Locking people up in our jails is an even more efficient way to spread the disease, a fact we have long ignored in our preference for punishment over general health and safety.

In my experience, people justify ineffective penalties by saying that if you break the rules, you get what you deserve. This edict undermines public safety, and shifts our focus from public health to punishment for its own sake. The police officers we expect to confront people with fines or arrest are more likely to spread COVID-19 to their families and to other members of the public they subsequently meet. Incarcerated people who get sick can spread the illness to the health care workers who must then treat them. Punishing some ends up punishing all, and while this is always the case it’s especially relevant right now.

Another danger of focusing on enforcement is the assumption that those who follow the rules are safer from illness. Health care experts across Canada tell us that keeping at least two meters from one another really helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. While some provinces are now enforcing this rule with fines and possible arrest, it doesn’t apply if you’re in a grocery store. We don’t expect police to handcuff a person in the cereal aisle, even though the chance of spreading illness there may be higher than our public spaces, where reckless policing thrives.

A seemingly angry Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put on his daddy voice yesterday and warned Canadians that, “enough is enough—go home and stay home.” Trudeau added that, “we’re going to make sure this happens, whether by educating people more on the risks, or enforcing the rules if that’s needed.” His rehearsed anger obscures a simple truth: people in Canada have very limited experience in addressing a global pandemic through their own behaviour. The individualism that defines our culture isn’t compatible with the sudden need to act in service of everyone.

For this reason, the same governments that now threaten us with punishment were telling us only weeks ago that they were prepared to protect us from COVID-19, that we didn’t need to alter our lives just yet. Many people in our country aren’t media literate, and can’t easily digest the bombardment of press conference updates and contradictory messages we are now supposed to heed.

We’re told to go home and stay there, yet some of us must keep working to provide essential services, and all of us still need to venture out for food, medication, and supplies. People with wealth and savings are able to not only stockpile supplies and hibernate, but to buy out stores and force others to wander dangerously in search of basic goods. Untold thousands of people in this country have no home to safely go and stay. None of this is as simple as we might pretend.

Trudeau’s statement that government should educate the public is accurate, and should have come without the threat he used to punctuate it. We need consistent education and support to get through this pandemic. People could more easily follow direction if their governments, past and present, had done more to prepare for emergencies and build a society based on education rather than fear. In any case we are collectively vulnerable to this virus now, and we should spend our energy on universal protection rather than selective punishment.

Halifax police publicly downplayed Santina Rao’s injuries hours before reporting them to oversight agency

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Constable John MacLeod publicly dismissed the need to investigate Santina Rao’s injuries before his force had even reported those injuries to police oversight

After several unnamed Halifax police officers assaulted Santina Rao at a Walmart on January 15, breaking her wrist and causing her a concussion, the police force had a legal duty to inform the Serious Injury Response Team (SIRT) that oversees police use of force. But hours before Halifax police reported the incident to SIRT, constable John MacLeod told the media his police force did not believe Rao’s injuries meet SIRT’s threshold for investigation.

SIRT interim director Pat Curran confirmed with me by telephone that he only learned of Rao’s situation on “late Thursday afternoon,” more than a day after the attack and hours after MacLeod, the HRP’s Public Information Officer, dismissed the need for an investigation.

Nova Scotia’s Police Act instructs senior police officials who learn of serious injuries their officers may have caused to”notify the [SIRT] Director as soon as practicable.” By publicly downplaying Rao’s injuries before reporting them to SIRT, police appear to have violated their legal reporting duty.

Rao says she had tried to pay for all her items at the store’s electronics checkout on January 15, but the cashier couldn’t process some of her purchases—a grapefruit, a head of lettuce, and two lemons—because he didn’t have a scale to weigh produce items. Rao paid for the remainder of her items, and the cashier directed her to pay for her produce separately at another cashier.

As Rao walked with her children to another cashier, her daughter stopped at the toy section and asked for a Barbie doll. At this time, three Walmart staffers, a security guard and a Halifax police officer confronted Rao and accused her of concealing store items. When Rao said she had nothing to hide, and invited her accusers to search her purse, the police officer asked Rao to provide identification. After she produced her ID, the officer began asking if Rao’s home address matched the one on her ID card. Rao replied that this question had nothing to do with the accusation that she was stealing from the store.

“I told him there’s no evidence or proof that I’m shoplifting rights now,” Rao said earlier this week in an interview. “I don’t understand why I’m being ID’d and why all this information about me is being asked in such a public area.” The police officer said Rao was “being hysterical”, called for backup, and told her she could be arrested for disturbing the peace.

After more police arrived, several officers took her to the ground in front of her children. She suffered a concussion, a broken left wrist, and swelling and bruises to her face, back, neck and arms. Rao said an officer handcuffed her while saying “she’s a feisty fucking bitch, this one.” Police charged Rao with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, and causing a disturbance—they separated her from her children and put her into a police cruiser without providing her with medical attention.

The fact that SIRT only learned of the incident from police more than a day after it occurred demonstrates a major gap in police oversight and accountability. The law expects police forces to report their own violent conduct to SIRT. Multiple news agencies reported Rao’s story on Thursday afternoon. It’s troubling that SIRT lacked the basic media scanning practices to receive the news, and had to rely on Halifax police to report its own violence later that evening.

SIRT has now opened a formal investigation into the officers who assaulted Rao, and announced its decision late Tuesday afternoon, seven days after the attack. SIRT’s investigation could result in criminal charges for the unnamed officers who attacked Rao.

SIRT states on its website that “our mandate is to investigate all matters that involve death, serious injury, sexual assault and domestic violence” that arise from a Nova Scotia police officer’s actions. The first example of a serious injury on SIRT’s list is “fractures to limbs, ribs, head or spine.”

Since Rao’s broken wrist meets the SIRT threshold for serious injury, it’s troubling the agency needed nearly a week to open its investigation. Since Rao received medical treatment for her fracture and concussion at Queen Elizabeth II hospital, her situation also meets SIRT’s threshold of “admission to hospital as a result of the injury.”

Rao confirmed by phone Tuesday morning that SIRT officials visited her at home two days after the attack, and that she authorized them to view records from her visit to the emergency room. That same afternoon, Global news inaccurately reported that “Nova Scotia’s police watchdog is now investigating an incident that left a woman with injuries.” The article later cites Curran as saying, “We began a preliminary review today to see whether the incident appears to be within our mandate.” It took four more days for SIRT to formally open its investigation.

Rao said yesterday she was glad to hear news of the SIRT investigation, and added that “hopefully something comes of it.” For a more detailed account from Rao of her ongoing struggle for accountability, you can listen to this interview I conducted with her on Sunday for Newstalk 1010 radio.

Here for Dafonte—Theriault brothers trial, week 1

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A police photo of $13.50 seized from Dafonte Miller when he was arrested on December 28, 2016. Police charged Dafonte with stealing this money, although the Crown withdrew this charge and all others against him several months later.

***This piece contains graphic and disturbing descriptions of police brutality and anti-Black racism. ***

Nearly three years ago, someone attacked a Black youth named Dafonte Miller, who was then 19 years old, on a suburban street in Whitby, Ontario, and caused him serious injuries, including the loss of his left eye. At first, no one was charged with the attack—in fact, the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) officers who attended the scene laid five criminal charges against Dafonte, including assault with a weapon, possession of a dangerous weapon, and theft under $5,000.

DRPS officers claimed Dafonte had assaulted two white men they found at the scene with him, off-duty Toronto police officer Michael Theriault, then 24, and his younger brother Christian, then 21. The Theriault brothers didn’t have any serious injuries, but DRPS officers accepted their story that Dafonte had tried to break into their truck, assaulted both of them with a metal pipe, and resisted their attempts to hold him down until police came. The two men gave the briefest of statements to police and went home; Dafonte went to the hospital in handcuffs and in DRPS custody.

Things changed dramatically in late April of 2017, when Dafonte’s lawyer contacted the Special Investigations Unit, the agency responsible for investigating injuries, deaths, and sexual assault allegations involving police officers. The SIU hadn’t heard about the incident between the Theriault brothers and Dafonte—DRPS failed to report it to them, but did notify Toronto police the night of the attack. Toronto police also chose not to notify the SIU, and allowed Michael Theriault to go back to work.

The Miller family fought against Dafonte’s outrageous criminal charges, and in early May the Crown (the lawyers representing the government) dropped all the criminal charges against Dafonte. The SIU closed its investigation in July of 2017 and recommended criminal charges against the Theriault brothers. Although Christian isn’t a police officer, he became the first civilian the SIU has laid charges against, as investigators determined he and Michael had acted together. The Theriault brothers are each charged with aggravated assault, as well as obstruction of justice for allegedly misleading DRPS officers who responded to 911 calls.

Of course, no one needed to mislead the officers who arrived on scene on December 28, 2016. As the first week of trial showed, and as Dafonte has already alleged in a separate police oversight complaint, DRPS officers helped the Theriault brothers cover up their violence. The Crown’s evidence includes a 911 call from Christian telling the dispatcher that Michael was an off-duty police officer. The responding officers’ took direction from the brothers, and from their father John, who is also a Toronto police officer, and framed Dafonte as the assailant in his own beating.

DRPS officers aren’t on trial here—on the contrary, the first two officers who arrived at the scene are Crown witnesses, one of whom gave testimony last week. But the facts and testimony thus far have shed more light on DRPS complicity in and cover up of the beating.

Evidence before the court

Court documents include an agreed statement of facts, which both the Crown and defence accept as fair evidence. The two sides only agree on a few things: that Michael Theriault was an off-duty Toronto police officer on the night of the incident; that Dafonte’s wounds satisfy the criminal code definition of aggravated assault; that the expert witness are qualified and medical info are admissible.

The agreed statement of facts also includes: audio and transcripts of three 911 calls, one each initiated by Christian Theriault, a civilian witness, and Dafonte Miller; statements from the Theriault brothers to DRPS officers; DRPS logs of their activities in responding to the incident; a biology report of the scene; and a series of photgraphs taken by a DRPS officer, SIU investigators, and Dafonte’s family. Additional evidence, including documents from the trial’s preliminary inquiry, is also being used in court.

The agreement that Dafonte’s injuries had to be caused by someone else is very important. There’s no evidence that anyone other than the Theriault brothers had a violent encounter with Dafonte. It seems their best hope of acquittal is for their lawyers to convince Justice Joseph Di Luca that their violence was a necessary and acceptable form of self-defense.

The brothers told police they chased Dafonte after finding him and a friend sitting in their parents’ truck close to 3 a.m. The brothers say they believed the young men were stealing from the truck, and pursued Dafonte to apprehend him until police came. Both brothers claim that after they chased Dafonte approximately 150 meters down the street and cornered him, he produced a metal pipe and began striking each of them in the head, torso, and legs.

Neither brother could say with any confidence where this pipe came from. Michael, who says he led the pursuit, told DRPS he never lost sight of Dafonte, but nevertheless said he never saw where the pipe came from or how it got into Dafonte’s hands. The pipe is an exhibit inside the courtroom which lawyers can refer to when questioning witnesses. It is approximately four feet long and made of solid metal, and it still contains markings of blood.

Both brothers told the police they feared for one another’s lives, yet neither of them sustained any major injuries or were immediately admitted to hospital. Christian showed police a cut on the outside of his right hand, which an officer photographed. Other than this, police who attended the scene didn’t see any injuries on either man. Michael reported no injuries, while Christian said that besides his hand, he had no other injuries apart from a sore head. Twelve days after the attack, Christian went back to DRPS for a second interview, during which he stated he had received medical treatment for a concussion. 

DRPS officers appear not to have asked Christian how Dafonte sustained his brutal injuries on the night they responded to the scene. At his subsequent police interview Christian said he defended himself after Dafonte struck him repeatedly with the pipe and his fists. He told a detective, “I got hit a couple of times—I had a darker eye—and that’s when I just, you know what, he’s fighting, so I was using my fists to defend myself, to stop—to stop him from hurting us.” When the detective asked Christian how many times he’d struck Dafonte with his fists to subdue him, he replied, “I don’t recall how many times. I was just going—I was just—it was—the amount of times was just until he stopped hitting us with the pole, then that’s when—that’s when we stopped.”

Although Christian suggested both he and his brother were punching Dafonte, Michael never offered this information, and neither man acknowledged hitting Dafonte with the pipe. DRPS officers have no documentation of themselves asking either brother if they hit Dafonte with the pipe.

Crown witnesses

The Crown’s first witness, DRPS Constable Jennifer Bowler, testified that after she and her partner were the first officers to arrive and see Dafonte bloodied and badly wounded, she doesn’t remember herself or her partner having any conversation with him. Bowler further testified that she never saw Dafonte’s eventual arrest, or have any recollection which of her colleagues laid the multiple charges against him.

Bowler said she did speak with the man standing over Dafonte when she arrived, and we now know that man was Michael Theriault. She says Theriault told her that he believed there was another person responsible for breaking into his truck, and pointed Bowler in the direction he believed the person fled. She testified that she did walk a little way up the road and saw no one.

Bowler, who was responsible for documenting and seizing evidence that evening, returned to retrieve her camera and begin documenting the scene. She took a photo of Dafonte’s eye injury as he lay in an ambulance, the metal pipe presented in court, evidence of blood on the front porch, driveway, and truck of the house where the brothers were holding Dafonte. Bowler took photographs of the cut on Christian Theriault’s hand, and of his face, which showed no signs of injury; she didn’t photograph Michael at all, and testified this is because he reported no injuries.

At this point Bowler said another man appeared and told her a vehicle he owned down the road had been broken into. Although we now know this man was John Theriault—the men’s father and a Toronto police officer himself—Bowler’s testimony suggests she didn’t know exactly who he was, when he arrived on the scene, and how he was related to the other men she’d encountered. Nevertheless she accompanied him to his property well down the street to photograph his truck.

Bowler took several photos of John Theriault’s truck. In her photos the truck doors are closed, as is the electronically-operated garage door the brothers claimed they had run out of to pursue Dafonte. Although Dafonte would later be charged with stealing money from the truck, John didn’t tell Bowler any money or other items were missing. Bowler said she found no evidence that someone had broken into the truck. Dafonte’s theft charge, which the Crown later withdrew, seems to suggest he stole the $13.50 police found in his pocket while arresting him. 

Crown lawyers accepted Bowler’s bizarre account without asking any obvious follow-up questions about why she repeatedly took directions from the Theriaults. In order to get its conviction of the brothers, the Crown is disregarding the obvious fact that Durham police were there to assist the Theriaults and not Dafonte. The Crown needs Bowler and her police colleagues to appear credible so the judge will accept the parts of their evidence that incriminate the brothers.

Similarly, defence lawyers made no efforts to question Bowler’s account. They want us to believe the police’s callous response to Dafonte was normal, that they only took direction from the Theriaults because they were innocent victims of a crime. The DRPS cover-up of the crime is an unacknowledged siren in the courtroom, an alarm no one wants to answer.

A key Crown witness is a man I’ll call Bill, who lives with his family at the house where police found Dafonte and the Theriault brothers (Bill isn’t his real name, but I’ve changed it because of the sensitivity of his testimony, which contradicts the police and the Theriault brothers in many instances). Bill and his family woke up to sounds of screaming outside their home on the night of the attack. He testified that he went to his bathroom window, and saw two men at the side of his house, punching down at a third person in between them.

Bill shouted to his wife to call 911, and eventually went downstairs after hearing someone banging loudly at his front door. He heard a voice asking anyone inside to call 911, and said he believed it came from the person who was banging. When Bill’s wife got a dispatcher on the line, he took the phone and described what he was seeing and hearing.

At one point Bill went to the upstairs window and told the dispatcher he saw one man standing over another with a long object, and that he feared the person without the weapon would be struck. Bill further testified in court that he saw the armed person using the long object to stab down at the man below him to keep him from getting up. He also saw another man who appeared to be on a cell phone pacing up and down the street in front of his driveway.

The Crown played Bill’s phone call for the court, and in a devastating moment after Bill expressed fear for Dafonte’s safety, the 911 dispatcher replies, “Yeah, I guess he was trying to restrain him, that’s why.” The dispatcher continued, “judging based on what you’re saying, I assume the guy that broke into the car is the guy that’s on the ground.”

This assumption by the dispatcher was based on info coming in at the same time from Christian, who called 911 only twenty seconds before Bill did, and informed the operator his brother, a police officer, had apprehended a thief. Bill also testified that although several police officers attended the scene at his house and saw him standing outside, none of them took a formal statement from him.

The court also heard from Michael Pickup, a medial professional who reviewed all of the medical evidence regarding Dafonte’s injuries. Pickup said that while it was possible a pipe had caused Dafonte’s injuries, he believed it was more likely caused by blows from fists. Dafonte’s eye was dislodged and split into pieces, and surgeons ultimately removed it. The charge of aggravated assault doesn’t hinge on the use of a weapon, so the judge doesn’t necessarily need to find that any weapon was used in order to find the Theriault brothers guilty on that charge. 

Crown lawyers called Mike Federico to the stand to give evidence about police use of force, particularly regarding the responsibilities of off-duty police officers. Federico is a former deputy chief of the Toronto police, and was serving in that capacity when Dafonte was attacked. Federico also happens to be overseeing the DRPS while its current chief, Paul Martin, faces  an unrelated misconduct investigation. Federico’s experience with both forces involved in this cover-up makes him an interesting person to cite as an expert, and suits the climate of indifference to police corruption that hangs over this trial.

Federico said that generally speaking, a police officer maintains certain responsibilities even when they are not on duty. He said officers are expected to respond to crimes they witness, even if that simply means calling 911. In Federico’s opinion, an off-duty officer has more responsibilities than a civilian when witnessing or responding to criminal activity, such as taking extra steps to identify themselves, and clearly justifying any force they may use.

As defense lawyer Michael Lacy cross-examined Federico, he revealed part of his team’s strategy. Lacy suggested that Federico is not an expert in the laws of self-defence, and that off-duty police officers can engage in a citizen’s arrest to protect themselves and their property. This is clearly the story the Theriault brothers’ lawyers intend to paint, despite the fact that Michael and Christian both informed authorities that Michael is a cop.

In the second week of trial, the Crown has called two friends who were with Dafonte on the night of the attack, and heard from two other DRPS officers who arrived early to the scene. Dafonte himself is expected to testify later this afternoon. The experience will force Dafonte to not only relive all the events of that evening, but to endure harsh cross-examination, during which defense lawyers will surely challenge the truth of his story. May he and his family find strength for that experience—I’ll have another update soon.

Justice Donald McLeod resigns as chair of the Federation of Black Canadians—again

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Justice Donald McLeod (right) poses with Michaëlle Jean at the 2019 National Black Canadians Summit in Ottawa

For the second time in 15 months, Ontario Court Justice Donald McLeod has quietly resigned as chair of the Federation of Black Canadians. McLeod, who founded the Black lobby group, first resigned in June of 2018 at the direction of the Ontario Judicial Council, the provincial oversight body for judges. The OJC subsequently found that McLeod had engaged in governmental lobbying through his role at FBC, and warned against any similar future activity. However, as I reported in February, McLeod returned to FBC in early 2019, and under his leadership the group has continued to lobby the federal government. At least one other board member who has served with McLeod since FBC’s founding has also resigned, and a source says more resignations are coming. (Update, 4:45 p.m.: FBC staff member Richard Sharpe confirms that he and another board member have also resigned. In total, three of ten board members and a staffer have resigned in recent weeks.)

FBC board member Dahabo Ahmed Omer announced McLeod’s resignation at a public meeting in Ottawa on Saturday. Omer offered no explanation for McLeod’s departure, but said she had been elected as the group’s new chair. FBC has removed McLeod’s name from its board of directors on its website, where he was still listed as “chairperson” only weeks ago. However, an “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the website still contains several references to McLeod, including a statement that “Justice Donald McLeod, is not permitted to communicate with any government official, or their designates, on behalf of the FBC.”

FBC organized a day of lobbying with federal Liberal cabinet ministers in February entitled “Black Voices on the Hill”. Before these meetings FBC prepared a series of documents entitled “Issues and Asks” which included policy and funding demands for elected officials. FBC has also applied for federal government funding through Heritage Canada—McLeod has repeatedly said the group would not seek government money because it wanted to retain its independence.

McLeod himself represented FBC at a July 23 meeting in Gatineau, Quebec. The invite-only meeting was organized by Employment and Social Development Canada to discuss the allocation of $25 million in funding over five years for Black community projects.

At the Gatineau meeting McLeod introduced himself as chair of FBC, and remarked that “we’ve been part of or integral with respect to negotiations with the finance minister towards the 2018 budget. We’ve met with Finance, PHAC [Public Heath Agency of Canada], Statscan [Statistics Canada], the premiers, ex-prime ministers, community groups. We’ve had two summits and we’ve had Black Voices on the Hill. We’ve met with every leader from every party federally, and we’ve done as best as we can provincially.”

McLeod’s colleague, Associate Chief Justice Faith Finnestad, filed a complaint about his involvement with FBC in February of 2018. Judges in Ontario are prohibited from engaging in political activity or advocacy, and Finnestad’s complaint alleged that McLeod was doing exactly that through FBC. The OJC found that McLeod was indeed lobbying the government, but dismissed the complaint because “it was not so seriously contrary to the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary that it rose to the level of undermining the public’s confidence in his ability to perform the duties of office or the public’s confidence in the judiciary generally.”

However the OJC’s decision gave a clear warning to McLeod or any other judge that lobbying is unacceptable. “We emphasize that it does not follow from our decision that judges who engage in lobbying will not be guilty of misconduct merely because of their good intentions. In the future, if a judge crosses the line that we have delineated, a Hearing Panel may indeed find that public confidence has been undermined and that the judge has engaged in judicial misconduct.”

Richard Picart, who has served as FBC’s communications lead for FBC, has also resigned—he was listed as an FBC board member along with McLeod as late as July. A source close to FBC says Len Carby, who is still listed as a board member, is also preparing to resign. (Update, 4:45 p.m.: FBC Staffer Richard Sharpe has confirmed the resignation of Len Carby as of September 15). McLeod, Picart, and Carby—who have led the public operations at FBC since 2017—are friends who all belong to Kanisa Fellowship, a Seventh Day Adventist church in Toronto. It isn’t clear why they would all resign around the same time without any public notification.

While FBC continues to lobby behind closed doors, its public profile is nearly non-existent. For example, the group’s “news and updates” page on its website contains only four posts in 2019, one of which announced the dismissal of McLeod’s complaint. The FBC twitter page has been inactive since May. Calls to FBC staffer Richard Sharpe were not returned by publication time. I’ll update if I’m able to contact FBC staff or board members.

Update, 4:45 p.m.: Sharpe says McLeod recently sent a message to select FBC supporters informing them he is resigning to spend more time with his family. Sharpe could not confirm this reasoning but said it “doesn’t make sense” given McLeod’s insistence only months ago that he is a necessary leader in the organization. Sharpe himself said he’s been excluded from FBC communications and board meetings since at least June, and was eager to find a way out of the organization.

Sharpe expressed frustration over what he called “distractions” relating to McLeod’s involvement at FBC. He says other board members share this frustration, and that even more resignations are imminent.

 

 

Steeped Tea—An update on the Federation of Black Canadians

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Three weeks ago, dozens of Black folks visited Parliament Hill in Ottawa for “Voices on the Hill”, an event hosted by the Federation of Black Canadians (FBC) and the Michaëlle Jean Foundation (MJF). After a well-publicized incident in which security at Parliament Hill made racist comments about the Black visitors, FBC and MJF moved quickly to mobilize a national response. According to members of a delegation from Halifax, Nova Scotia, FBC founder and steering committee member Justice Donald McLeod, a sitting Ontario judge, told them not to speak out about their experiences of racism at Parliament Hill.

This revelation comes one year after I published “Black Tea—the truth about the Federation of Black Canadians”, in which I outlined several ethical concerns about FBC’s leadership and activities. Three individuals from Halifax, including two who were on the call with McLeod, reached out to me through 902 Man Up, a local organization that supported youth who attended Voices on the Hill as part of the 2019 National Black Summit in Ottawa.

These individuals were concerned that a sitting judge had unexpectedly called them and, in their view, attempted to silence them regarding the discrimination they faced. I am sharing the experiences of these three Halifax residents with their blessing; the following also includes a broader update on the troubling issues that have long been brewing at FBC.

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On February 4 2019, on the final day of the 2019 National Black Canadian Summit in Ottawa, FBC and MJF lead a delegation of about 150 people to Parliament Hill. The summit program described the event as a chance to “ignite much needed conversation between community and political leaders.” During the gathering, parliamentary staff took photos of a group of Black visitors gathered in a fourth floor cafeteria. According to security on-site, staff sent those photos to security officials and complained that the Black visitors were being too loud.

According to several witnesses, a security guard approached some Black visitors and declared that, while he did not want to appear racist, he was receiving complaints about the “dark-skinned” people in the cafeteria, and was requesting that they leave the area. Shortly after the incident, Trayvone Clayton and Kate Macdonald, two youth attendees from Halifax, conducted an interview with the national political affairs network CPAC, and spoke about the racist treatment they’d just experienced.

FBC and MJF reached out to attendees who were present during the incident and began to organize a response. On February 5, Peter Flegel, director of programming and development at MJF, started a Facebook group of selected attendees, including Macdonald and Clayton, as well as Marcus James, the father of Clayton. MJF and FBC began to plan a press release and a series of national press conferences in response to the racist incident.

FBC staffer and steering committee member Dahabo Ahmed Omer facilitated a national call to discuss the group’s media strategy on the late evening of February 6. Flegel was present on the call, as were members of the Facebook group he had created. During the call Omer excused herself briefly, then returned to inform the group that she had just been contacted by an official at the Prime Minister’s Office. Omer claimed the official had informed her that the PMO had received a “leaked” copy of the group’s press release.

According to Macdonald, many participants on the national call were shocked, confused, and upset by Omer’s news. When James asked Omer how such a leak could have occurred, she reportedly replied that the group shouldn’t “waste time” looking into it. Another individual from western Canada who was also on the call verified Omer’s comments to me during a phone interview. The call ended after 10 p.m. in Ottawa, or 11 p.m. in Halifax.

Following the national call, Omer sent a Facebook message visible to the entire group to request that Macdonald and Clayton speak with her privately (a screenshot of that message appears below). Macdonald and Clayton appear to have telephoned Omer between 11 p.m. and midnight, and when they engaged in the call, they say another person whose presence Omer had not mentioned was on the line: Justice Donald McLeod.

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Clayton and Macdonald say McLeod told them that, in his opinion as a judge and as a lawyer, they should not be sharing their experiences of racial profiling at Parliament Hill. When the youth informed McLeod that they had already been doing so, through interviews with CPAC and other local media, they say McLeod reminded them that parliament was still investigating the incident, and that if the youth “misspoke”, that they too might be investigated by parliament.

Geoff Regan, the Speaker of the House of Commons, did receive a formal complaint and a request to investigate the racist incident on February 6. However, Macdonald, Clayton, and James all say security officials from the Parliamentary Protective Service never contacted them regarding the internal investigation.

Clayton and Macdonald say that McLeod counselled them not to speak at the upcoming press conference scheduled in Halifax on February 8, and suggested that they should seek someone “as charming and charismatic” as themselves in replacement. Clayton suggested to McLeod that his father James might be willing to speak on their behalf. McLeod also reportedly told the youth that the present moment was an “important moment for race relations” in Canada, and that they could jeopardize progress for the Black community by speaking out.

The Halifax attendees say McLeod also referenced a legal battle involving the late Rocky Jones, a prominent African Nova Scotian activist. McLeod reportedly said Jones had gotten sued by the police for misspeaking about racism, and that the judge didn’t want the youth to meet a similar fate. After the call, Clayton shared the contents of the call with his father, who contacted me the following evening on February 7 to express his concerns.

“At first we believed McLeod had called to share his expertise to help us,” Macdonald told me. “But as the call went on, we felt he was trying to silence us.” James shared similar sentiments, and all three Halifax residents told me they were particularly insulted by the invocation of Jones’ activism to justify what they perceived as an attempt to silence them. “We all understand that the judge’s phone call wasn’t appropriate,” said James.

On February 8, James led a press conference featuring his son and Macdonald,with the  support of several local community members, at George Dixon Community Centre in Uniacke Square, Halifax. Omer forwarded the Halifax contingent a copy of prepared statements for James and all other national  press conference participants to read. James and the Halifax speakers declined to read the prepared statement. Instead, James stated that he was simply there to support the youth. “They wanna tell their story, their way,” said James. “It needs to be heard from them.”

Macdonald began her remarks by saying, “I was on Parliament Hill so I’m gonna be real right now and go out on a limb here: we were told, or advised, what to say. I can’t do that. I don’t wanna do that. I wanna say the things that I actually feel, and I wanna speak for generations to come.”

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The latest disclosures about the activities of McLeod and FBC raise larger questions about why the Ontario judge continues to serve on the steering committee of an organization that seemingly continues to lobby the federal government. McLeod, who founded the group that would eventually become FBC in the summer of 2016, confirmed his resignation as chair of the group’s steering committee in June of 2018. McLeod’s resignation was in response to a request to from the Ontario Judicial Council, an entity whose mandate is to “investigate complaints made by the members of the public about conduct of provincially-appointed judges.”

It was the judicial council’s understanding at that time that McLeod had not only resigned, but had also “disengaged from any activities on behalf of the FBC.” It is unclear if the Council is aware that McLeod has resumed his role as a member of the steering committee, as indicated on the group’s website as of  February 2019.

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A complaint regarding McLeod’s conduct was filed on February 23, 2018 by Faith Finnestad, an Associate Chief Justice of the Ontario Court. Beginning in September of 2017—more than two months before FBC announced its existence to the public—Finnestad repeatedly told McLeod in person and in writing that she feared his role with FBC was incompatible with his position as a judge. On December 21, two weeks after FBC made its public debut, Finnestad sent an e-mail to McLeod that included the following remarks:

“You’ve indicated that you feel that somewhere down the road as the federation develops, your role with it may become inconsistent with the judicial role and you have cautioned people that at that point you will give up those responsibilities. I am cautioning you as I did a few months ago, that I believe you are already at that point and that you should leave this Influential [sic] position…”

At a judicial hearing in December The Council scrutinized McLeod for private meetings he held with several powerful government officials in the summer of 2017, including meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his former chief of staff Gerald Butts, former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and several federal Liberal government ministers and cabinet members.

The Council ultimately found in its December 2018 decision that “The activities of Justice McLeod and the FBC thus amount to lobbying.” However, the Council dismissed the complaint under the rationale that McLeod’s lobbying “was not so seriously contrary to the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary that it rose to the level of undermining the public’s confidence in his ability to perform the duties of office or the public’s confidence in the judiciary generally.”

In its decision, the Council repeatedly cited McLeod’s good intentions in fighting for the Black community, but also warned that its decision was not an invitation for judges to engage in lobbying. “We emphasize that it does not follow from our decision that judges who engage in lobbying will not be guilty of misconduct merely because of their good intentions,” the decision states. “In the future, if a judge crosses the line that we have delineated, a Hearing Panel may indeed find that public confidence has been undermined and that the judge has engaged in judicial misconduct.”

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Voices on the Hill appears to be a continuation of an event the FBC has previously referred to as “Lobby Day.” The program note from the 2019 Black Summit described the event, “in its third edition,” as a “unique opportunity for federal lawmakers to meet with African Canadian community leaders representing a variety of key sectors.” McLeod was present at Parliament Hill during the 2019 event. In preparation for meetings with various government ministers, including cabinet ministers, Omer provided event participants with a series of documents entitled “Black Voices on the Hill – Issues and Asks.” These documents appears to outline FBC requests for government funding and programming.

The documents line up with specific federal government portfolios, including Justice; Canadian Heritage; Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees; and Social Services. Similar FBC requests for funding and government action during government meetings in 2017 led the Judicial Council to conclude that McLeod and FBC were indeed engaged in lobbying. As noted in a February 3 news story for the Ottawa Citizen, Omer instructed summit attendees who were planning to meet with federal politicians, “Don’t walk out of those meetings without making your ‘ask.’”

Despite the warnings about lobbying by the Ontario Judicial Council, McLeod is once again a member of FBC’s steering committee. FBC continues to organize and coordinate government meetings that include “asks” circulated to participants in advance; such meetings could be interpreted as ongoing lobbying by FBC. Of greater concern, McLeod’s late-night call to young people who experienced racism demonstrates how his role at FBC may again conflict with his position as a sitting judge.

McLeod has previously involved himself in matters that may not be appropriate for someone in his position. Last year McLeod engaged in private conversations and a private meeting regarding Abdoul Abdi, a refugee from Somalia who was facing deportation in the weeks after FBC made its public debut.

I have obtained e-mails that appear to document McLeod’s efforts to coordinate a meeting with Ahmed Hussen, the minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Refugees, to discuss Abdoul Abdi’s case. Below are screenshots of messages McLeod sent to coordinate the Hussen meeting. McLeod sent these communications from the government of ontario e-mail address he has been assigned as a judge:

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On January 13 McLeod met with Hussen, two of his staffers, and the community member at Hussen’s constituency office on Ingram Drive in Toronto.

On the afternoon of February 19 2018, McLeod contacted a member of the community coalition supporting Abdoul Abdi. I have obtained and reviewed a recording of McLeod’s phone call to the coalition member. During the call McLeod indicated that he had reached out to this particular coalition member “because you and my sister are friends.”

Minutes into the call, McLeod told the coalition member, “I wanted to talk to you because, um, so the person with the Abdoul case, so, I think speaking to his lawyers wouldn’t help because what’s been happening since January is I’ve been trying to set a meeting with the, um, with Ahmed Hussen.” McLeod had already met with Hussen on January 13 when he made this comment to the coalition member.

These interactions seem to directly contradict statements McLeod and his lawyer Mark Sandler made regarding the Abdi case at his hearing. McLeod and Sandler both stated that the judge had no personal involvement with the Abdi case. I cite below a relevant portion of McLeod’s exchange with Sandler from the hearing:

 

Sandler: Did you have any involvement at all in any representations that were made by the FBC about that specific case?

McLeod: No.

Sandler: And why not?

McLeod: I felt that because it was a matter that was still before the courts—even if it’s a court that’s not my court—I shouldn’t be commenting on it.

 

Mcleod ultimately saw his complaint dismissed, and the public reimbursed him for $81,265.96 in legal fees.

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that Omer called Macdonald and Clayton. It appears Macdonald and Clayton called Omer.

Police brutality at Union Station bus terminal

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Police brutality at Union Station bus terminal

On Sunday March 11 2018, two patrons at the Union Station GO bus terminal witnessed transit constables and Toronto police assaulting a man they identified as having mental health issues.

In a video filmed by one witness, transit constables suggest the man, whom they call “Chris,” has mental health issues, and tell him an ambulance is coming for him. But the constables then suggest the man is lying to them about his identity, and arrest him for obstruction of justice.

Constables and Toronto Police violently restrain the man for over 30 minutes—two different officers use their knees to pin the man’s head and neck to the ground. The second officer uses this dangerous technique for over eight minutes. At one point police suggest an officer with a taser is about to arrive. Police and transit constables repeatedly ask the witnesses filming them for identification, and threaten to confiscate their cell phones.

An ambulance arrives on scene after about 25 minutes—police instruct the paramedic who approaches them not to treat the man, saying he has been acting violently, and she complies. The paramedic does not even attempt to engage the man.

Police ultimately remove the man from the station in handcuffs and leg restraints. The video below has been edited for length, and to protect the man’s identity.

According to Statistics Canada, people living with mental health issues or cognitive disabilities are four times more likely to experience violence than their peers.

Frequently Unanswered Questions about the Federation of Black Canadians

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Federation of Black Canadians chairperson Justice Donald McLeod (right) poses with former governor general Michaëlle Jean in December 2017

The Federation of Black Canadians seems to be sensitive to criticism. Myself and many others have been asking questions about the group’s ethics, membership, and potential conflicts of interest. On Sunday February 25, steering committee member Ebyan Farah, who is the spouse of federal Liberal cabinet minister Ahmed Hussen, abruptly left her position. FBC has also halted most of its social media activity, and repeatedly removed all the content from its website.

On Monday February 26, FBC published a new “frequently asked questions” page on its website. Within a couple of hours the page was gone and, as of the publication of this piece, it has not been replaced. I anticipated this possibility and took screenshots of the entire page before FBC removed it. Although the “frequently asked questions” section doesn’t actually answer many of its own questions, it reveals an organization willing to do the absolute minimum to address real concerns about its operations.

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The above explanation for Ebyan Farah’s quick departure is very confusing. It does not explain who asked Farah to join the group, or why she was able to do so given her relationship with Hussen, the federal minister of citizenship, immigration and refugees. The claim that Farah received clearance from the Liberal Party ethics commission is truly bizarre: it’s not up to the federal Liberals to decide who is ethically fit to lobby their own members, who form the government of Canada.

FBC says Farah’s “term of service on the steering committee ended on February 25, 2018.” This convenient timing does not explain why the other steering committee members’ terms are still ongoing, and suggests they all have different terms of service.

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As you can see above, FBC does not answer its own question, ” do you work with LGBT organizations?” The group says it has “no problem” doing so, but puts the onus on those groups to reach out. FBC then immediately pivots to mention renowned University of Toronto professor and writer Rinaldo Walcott, who identifies as queer.

This awkward reference to Walcott seems to be FBC’s version of “we have a gay friend,” and has nothing to do with FBC’s seemingly non-existent work with organizations that represent LGBT people. Walcott confirmed with me this morning that FBC did not contact him before using his name in this way.

FBC seems particularly shook by the criticism that it is not partnering with groups that represent the LGBT communities. The now-removed FAQ included a separate section entitled “lgbt” which simply repeated the identical information contained in the “do you work with LGBT organizations?” section

FBC references Black Lives Matter Toronto, but fails to clarify that it does not work with the group, or with any BLM chapter in Canada. Again, FBC puts the onus on these groups to include themselves in its work. The Federation mentions a “Trailblazer Award” given to BLMTO, but fails to clarify that Michaëlle Jean Foundation, not FBC, gave out that award. As I have previously documented, this is not the first time in FBC’s young history that it has attempted to take credit for another organization’s actions.

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The above “communications” section makes it clear that FBC populated its e-mail list from the National Black Canadians Summit, which was organized by Michaëlle Jean Foundation. It seems MJF simply transferred its contacts to FBC without seeking the permission of summit guests.

The Federation also says here that its website was taken down once for “regular maintenance.” This does not explain the numerous other times the site has appeared without any content. Also, it doesn’t explain why the “frequently asked questions” page featuring this content is no longer available.

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Under “ethics,” the Federation says its chairperson Justice Donald McLeod, has “received the appropriate clearances” from the independent ethics committee of the Ontario Court of Justice to participate with the group. While it would be great to see evidence of these clearances, I doubt the ethics committee gave McLeod the right to act as a lobbyist. As you will see below, FBC acknowledges that it is actively lobbying the federal government. Social media posts from Liberal MPs show that McLeod is aggressively leading the lobbying efforts.

In a CBC news story published this morning, McLeod says his meetings with several prominent Liberal party members in 2017 “had nothing to do with lobbying.” He added,  “We’re telling [them] things that they didn’t know.” We are meant to believe that McLeod, an Ontario judge who chairs a national organization, has simply been meeting with high-level politicians to educate them, that he wants nothing in return, not even policy change on this issues he brings up. What, then, is the point of FBC and why is it asking Black people for our money and support?

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FBC defends McLeod’s activism by saying that other judges have engaged in “non-traditional community leadership.” Note that none of the examples given above have anything to do with lobbying. If the FBC cannot acknowledge that the complaint about McLeod is his position in lobbying the federal government while being a judge, it cannot address the apparent conflict.

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The finances section says a lot about the National Black Canadian Summit, and the Michaëlle Jean Foundation—it contains absolutely no information about the finances of FBC. However, it is important to note how often FBC masks itself under the operations of MJF in order to claim credit for things it has not done, or to avoid responsibility for its actual operations.

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In my last post about FBC, I noted that it has no formal governance structure, bylaws or memberships, and that none of the personnel currently leading the group have been elected. FBC confirms as much in the above sections. It’s really interesting and sad that FBC feels comfortable accepting donations and lobbying the government before any of these structures are in place.

Also, it is very important to note that FBC says it “currently” receives no government funding. I believe that will change in the future thanks to McLeod’s lobbying efforts, and his apparent conflict of interest relates directly to the prospect of FBC receiving government funding in the future.

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Under “government relations,” FBC curiously claims it has two agendas. The first agenda comes from a “national working paper” written in 2016. FBC references this document often but has never shared it. The second agenda is a “national platform being developed via consultations with regional coalitions and interested stakeholders.” FBC doesn’t tell us how it prioritizes its two agendas or what happens if they conflict. The lack of clarity is baffling.

FBC also acknowledges in this section that it is indeed engaged in lobbying, including a “Lobby Day” organized on February 12. This is clear evidence of FBC’s relationship with government and it raises further concerns about the roles of Justice McLeod and Ebyan Farah.

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In an attempt to claim it is a non-partisan group, FBC lists members of different political parties that attended the Summit in December. This is another example of the Federation’s bait-and-switch tactics —Michaëlle Jean Federation organized the summit and sent out invitations, not FBC.

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Many observers have criticized FBC for its public silence on the plight of Black people in peril from police, the criminal justice system, and the immigration system. For example, the Federation has never publicly mentioned Abdoul Abdi, a young man facing deportation to Somalia after his legal guardian, the government of Nova Scotia, failed to apply for his citizenship. Nor has the federation made any public statement about Dafonte Miller, a black youth who was attacked by two brothers, one of whom is a Toronto police officer—Miller lost his left eye as a result of the beating.

The official-sounding talk above about “criteria” does not explain the group’s silence about youths like Miller and Abdi. However, if we consider that FBC is led by a sitting Ontario judge and has been directed in part by the spouse of the immigration minister, it is easier to understand the silence. Legitimate fears by McLeod and Farah of conflict of interest undoubtedly affect the group’s advocacy.

 

The “frequently asked questions” section was supposed to answer many legitimate criticisms within Black communities about FBC. The document does reveal some important details about FBC, which raises the most obvious question: why did the group take the time to create and post this info, only to remove the same day? It is yet another unanswered question for a group struggling to justify its existence and its questionable behaviour.