Peel Regional Police officers who handcuffed a 6-year-old Black girl inside a Mississauga school decided to restrain her based, at least in part, on her race, a lawyer for the child’s mother argued at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal Wednesday.
In his opening statement, Roger Love, the lawyer representing the child and her mother, said the girl never should have been handcuffed — on both her hands and her feet — inside a Peel region elementary school in September 2016.
“This girl was unarmed, and experiencing a tantrum… However extreme this episode may have been, it didn’t warrant the use of physical restraints,” said Love, a lawyer with the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, told the tribunal.
“There were other options and the decision to handcuff was, at least in part, based on race.”
The woman and her child — neither of whom can be identified based on a publication ban applied Wednesday — filed an application to the province’s Human Rights Tribunal alleging police “brutalized” and used “excessive” force against the child.
The claim, filed against the Peel Regional Police Services Board, alleges discrimination based on colour and race, saying it’s an example of anti-Black racism.
At the first day of the hearing, lawyer Paula Rusak said the police board strongly disputes the allegations, which she called “reckless” and “false.” She said the written human rights claim contained “hyperbole” and “highly provocative and inflammatory words,” alleging there was no due diligence taken to ensure that what was being alleged is true.
Rusak argued the evidence will show that officers acted reasonably and that the child needed to be restrained because she was in danger of hurting herself or others around her.
“The optics are not great, but I think we all know that children sometimes can be difficult to handle, and in this particular case, the officers had no alternative but to restrain her as best they could,” Rusak said.
“At that time — it’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback — but at that time, that was the best thing to do.”
The facts as presented by in the human rights claim, she said, “are not going to be provable.”
The incident stems from a Sept. 30, 2016, incident, when police were called to Nahani Way Public School, after a teacher claimed the child had been assaulting students and staff, according to the human rights application filed by the mother.
According to the mother’s written claim, it was the third time that month that police had been called to the school because the child was misbehaving. The officer who arrived first said he found the child flanked by school officials and observed that she was “calm,” the claim states.
After a second officer arrived, the child became “agitated and started running throughout the school,” according to the officer’s notes, quoted in the application. The officers located her at the school’s gymnasium, where there was an assembly going on, and picked the 48-pound child up and carried her to the main office, according to the application.
The officers then handcuffed her wrists and ankles while she sat in a chair, then later, laid her down on her stomach and handcuffed her hands behind her back, according to the claim. The officers then called paramedics, although the claim alleges that the officers “provided no reasons in their notes that would support that decision.”
The mother was contacted at work and came to the school to pick up her daughter. She has since filed the human rights claim, launched a complaint to Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director and initiated a lawsuit against the police.
Asked by Love why she took legal action, the mother, who was called as a witness Wednesday, said she believes her daughter was only handcuffed because she is Black.
“I believe that light needed to be shone on the issue of police brutality. I believed that the parties responsible had to pay,” she said. “So that another 6-year-old girl doesn’t get shackled.”
On the stand, the mother acknowledged that her daughter had behavioural issues at school at the time. She stated her child was processing traumatic incidents in the fall of 2016, including the mother’s own recent cancer diagnosis and treatment.
She stated she was working with the school staff, including its social worker, and others to find ways to address the causes of her daughter’s behavioural issues and improve her parenting skills. She felt that she did “everything in my power to try and see what the underlying reasons were.”
In cross-examination, Rusak asked the mother about the specifics of prior violent incidents the school claimed the child was involved in, some leading to the child being suspended multiple times. Those incidents included that she bit one of the school staff members through a jean jacket, drawing blood; that she rode a bicycle into a staff member; that she threw scissors and a sharp pencil at a staff member; that she’d gone outside and started throwing rocks, and that she’d been violent with other students.
The mother claimed that when she was called to pick her child up from school, the school generally did not give specifics about her daughter’s problematic behaviour. The mother acknowledged that she knew there were behavioural concerns.
The tribunal continues Thursday.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis