Race was a factor when Peel police officers handcuffed black girl at Mississauga school, tribunal rules

 

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario says race was a factor when police west of Toronto handcuffed a black six-year-old girl at school.

In its decision, the tribunal found two white Peel Regional Police officers breached the girl's human rights during the incident on Sept. 30, 2016.

Earlier media reports indicate the incident happened at a Mississauga elementary school.

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.

Tribunal adjudicator Brenda Bowlby said the two officers overreacted.

"Their overreaction can only be explained by the inference that because of implicit stereotypical associations that arose because of the applicant's race, they saw her, as a black child, being more of a threat, being bigger, stronger and older than she was and, consequently, of being more in need of control than they would have seen a white child in the same circumstances," Bowlby wrote in her decision released on Feb. 24. 

"The evidence supports the conclusion that the most probable reason for this action is that the officers were influenced by implicit bias in respect of the applicant's race."

Peel police said the officers, Const. Nick Eckley and Const. Slav Kosaver, were investigated by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, which concluded that there were no reasonable grounds to believe that the officers failed to treat the young person equally without discrimination because of her race.

"No formal charges of misconduct were laid as a result of the investigation," Const. Bancroft Wright wrote in an email. "However, it was determined as a result of that investigation, that these officers, and all officers responding to schools, would benefit from further training, which is being implemented."

Both officers had received training on dealing with people in crises, but had not been trained to deal with children in behavioural crisis or "training in restraints specific to children," Bowlby wrote.

Wright pointed to the portion of the decision in which Bowlby wrote that "the evidence is undisputed that the officers conducted themselves throughout the incident in a professional and polite manner and that they did make efforts to verbally de-escalate the applicant while she continued to struggle, kick, head butt and try to scratch and bite them."

The school called police "when they feared for the safety of the students and staff member," Wright said. 

"The behavioural teaching assistant, who was trained in child crisis prevention intervention, had been physically restraining her for approximately 20 minutes and was unable to de-escalate her behaviour using those techniques. Our officers are trained to place the highest priority on de-escalation and the safety of all involved, and in this incident, no physical injuries were sustained."

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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