A city watchdog has identified serious flaws with an internal TTC investigation that largely exonerated three fare inspectors who forcibly detained a young Black man on a streetcar platform last year.
In a report released Thursday, Toronto Ombudsman Susan Opler concluded that while the transit agency’s investigation into the conduct of its own officers had some positive aspects, it was “not adequately thorough, fair, and transparent” to support its conclusions about the Feb. 18, 2018 incident.
The confrontation between the inspectors and the young man on the St. Clair streetcar route was caught on video and raised concerns about the behaviour of transit officers. In footage that was shot by a bystander and widely circulated online, the man, Reece Maxwell-Crawford, can be heard crying “I didn’t do anything though” and “you’re hurting me” as he’s pinned to the ground by a trio of TTC inspectors as well as Toronto police officers who came to assist them.
A 101-page investigation the TTC released in July 2018 found insufficient evidence to support allegations of misconduct, aside from concluding that one of the fare inspectors had inappropriately smiled at the young man, who was 19 at the time.
The ombudsman, an accountability officer responsible for overseeing municipal employees, launched her own inquiry into the TTC investigation last year. Her resulting report didn’t examine the incident itself, which is now the subject of a lawsuit Maxwell-Crawford has brought against the transit agency alleging discrimination on basis of his race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, place of origin, or citizenship.
But Opler concluded that the TTC investigation failed to ask enough questions, make clear findings of fact about key aspects of the case, and apply the correct standard of proof to determine whether misconduct had taken place.
She also found the TTC investigators failed to analyze evidence that could have supported findings of unconscious bias on the part of the inspectors, or examine whether they followed agency policy to disengage from potentially difficult situations.
Opler also flagged the fact that the expert witness TTC investigators used to determine whether misconduct occurred had potential conflicts of interest because he was the owner of a company the transit agency had contracted to train its officers.
She said the head TTC investigator himself was not sufficiently independent from the officers he was tasked with holding to account, because before taking on the investigator role he had worked for the transit enforcement unit for more than a decade and knew many of its members.
The report recommends the TTC strengthen the independence of its investigations into its officers, and consider creating a protocol for retaining external investigators with no ties to the agency. It also recommends that it only use expert witnesses who are independent from the TTC, and develop a plan to provide additional training to investigators to ensure they can conduct fair and independent inquiries.
“It was important for the TTC to get this investigation right. There was widespread concern about this incident and the TTC needed to answer the public’s questions about what happened and why. More broadly, the TTC had to show the public it is capable of investigating concerns about its employees’ conduct,” Opler wrote.
The TTC has agreed with her recommendations and committed to implementing them by Dec. 31, 2019.
In a statement, TTC CEO Rick Leary confirmed that in addition to following the ombudsman’s recommendations, the transit agency has decided to move “without delay to implement a system-wide anti-racism strategy, aimed directly at preventing racial profiling, and covering all aspects of the TTC’s operation.”
“We need to ensure that all of our customers feel safe and secure when dealing with our employees,” he said.
“We are committed to human rights and to celebrating diversity. And I know that we can and need to — and will — do better.”
At an unrelated news conference on Thursday morning, Mayor John Tory said that “there’s work to be done there” when asked about whether the TTC’s enforcement unit has a problem of racial bias.
“I was gratified to see, at the same time, that the TTC said that all of these recommendations would be taken on board and adopted.”
He said he shares the ombudsman’s concerns about the way the TTC handled the investigation and that the public should have confidence in the oversight of this incident.
“The ombudsman found some shortcomings and those should be remedied. Period. Full stop.”
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr