Human Rights Tribunal awards $35K in damages to 6-year-old Black girl handcuffed by police at Mississauga school

 

The Human Rights Tribunal has awarded $35,000 in damages, including damages for psychological and trauma counselling, to the family of a Black child who has handcuffed at a Mississauga school in 2016. 

The decision comes almost a year after the tribunal ruled that two Peel Regional Police officers’ actions constituted a “very serious” breach of the child’s human rights. The girl, who was six at the time of the incident, and her mother were represented by the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

“I am happy this rather lengthy and difficult chapter is finally over,” said J.B., the child’s mother and litigation guardian, in a statement. 

“I can 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.” 

Earlier this year, the tribunal said that race was a factor in the incident. 

Tribunal documents say the girl had struck another child and launched books at the principal while a behaviour teaching assistant tried to calm her down. The documents say the child had previously experienced several traumatic events, including the murder of her father and a cancer diagnosis for her mother.

Peel police denied they discriminated against the child and say the officers handcuffed the girl to keep her and others safe.

The girl had behavioural issues and was eventually diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder.

The school, which is not named in the decision, called 911 twice that morning and one officer had to chase after the girl, who bolted from the office when the second officer arrived, according to tribunal documents.

The officers brought the girl back to the office and handcuffed her ankles and wrists. The tribunal found the officers then placed her on her stomach on a bench and held her in that position for 28 minutes.

According to a news release, tribunal adjudicator Brenda Bowlby found the officers’ actions “shocking” and “punitive,” adding that the child was bullied by her peers and felt "humiliation, shame and guilt" after the incident.

“The applicant has suffered implicit harm in experiencing anti-Black racism at a very tender age,” wrote Bowlby. 

“[T]hat the applicant would experience 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. The full impact of this is unknown but it is now part of the applicant’s lived experience and will affect her into the future.”

The news release says that Peel Police entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ontario Human Rights Commission following the incident and have committed to making "substantial changes" to how they deal with children under 12. 

Peel Regional Police and the Peel Police Services Board have also agreed to develop legally binding remedies to address systemic racism in policing, the tribunal says.

“I’m pleased with the Tribunal’s decision,” said J.B. “But I do hope 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. These policy changes need to affect our daily lives.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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