Race was a factor in two Peel police officers’ decision to restrain a six-year-old Black girl by “handcuffing and shackling” her at her Mississauga school, an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal adjudicator has found.
While Peel Consts. Nick Eckley and Slav Kosaver were “professional and polite” while trying to control the girl nearly four years ago, their decision to place her on her stomach for 28 minutes with both her wrists and ankles handcuffed was “a clear overreaction in the circumstances,” adjudicator Brenda Bowlby wrote in her decision, dated February 24.
“While the officers had a legitimate duty to maintain the safety of the applicant, others and themselves in circumstances where the applicant’s behaviours were challenging and might have created a safety risk, this did not give them licence to treat the applicant in a way that they would not have treated a White six-year-old in the same circumstances,” Bowlby wrote.
In their complaint to the tribunal, the girl and her mother — whose identities are protected under a publication ban — argued the officers had “brutalized” the child at least in part because of her race when they were called to the school on Sept. 30, 2016.
At hearings last year, a police board lawyer denied that claim, saying the officers “had no alternative” but to restrain the girl as best they could.
In an emailed statement Tuesday, Peel Regional Police said the officers had been investigated and cleared by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, the civilian body that investigates complaints against police.
These officers and all officers “would benefit from further training, which is being implemented,” the statement read.
In her decision, Bowlby found that the officers’ implicit bias was indeed a factor in their actions, noting that research shows that Black children can be seen to be more of a threat than white children of the same age, acting the same way.
The “clear difference” between the girl and “a typical child,” from the perspective of the two White police officers, was her race, Bowlby wrote.
Their “overreaction,” she wrote, “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 being more in need of control than they would have seen a White child in the same circumstances.”
In her decision, Bowlby dismissed a second complaint, which alleged police discriminated against the child by calling the children’s aid society. Bowlby found police “did not act maliciously or without reasonable grounds in asking the CAS to look into the situation.”
The adjudicator also found the officers had no training in how to deal with children in crisis.
Responding on behalf of the officers, a Peel Regional Police spokesperson on Tuesday said they would not be commenting on the case.
According to the decision, the officers denied placing the girl on her stomach with her wrists behind her back, although Bowlby found otherwise.
In its statement, Peel police said a behavioural teaching assistant, who was trained in child-crisis prevention, had to physically restrain the girl for 20 minutes and was “unable to de-escalate her behaviour,” and that the officers — as the adjudicator noted in her decision — had tried to verbally de-escalate the girl’s behaviour.
According to Bowlby’s decision, police were called to Nahani Way Public School on Sept. 30, 2016, because the girl had been “hitting another child, running away, throwing objects at her principal and behavioural teaching assistant — and hitting him on the lip — and hitting out at both adults.”
Police had been called over the same child several previous times that month, and the officers understood that they had been called in to “control” the child, Bowlby wrote.
The girl, who weighed 48 pounds, was sitting calmly in the school’s office when the officers, both around six-foot and weighing 190 to 200 pounds, arrived, but she soon left the office abruptly, Bowlby wrote. One officer soon caught the girl and held her by the arms, and she later began “kicking, flailing, head-butting and trying to ‘break free’ while being held by the officers,” she wrote.
This led the officers to handcuff the girl, which they said they did to prevent harm to themselves and others, Bowlby wrote.
The Ontario’s Human Rights Legal Support Centre, which provided the girl and her mother with free legal assistance, said the girl’s mother started the case “to get justice for my daughter, to protect other children, and to shine light on the over-policing which plagues the Black community. Schools should be a safe place for Black children.”
The next phase of the tribunal hearing will look at remedies.
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Roger Love, the lawyer who is representing the girl, said the legal support centre will be looking into tracking interactions by race, and at police and school protocols. Love told the Star that “this has been an issue in the black community and unfortunately, we find that it’s time and time again that Black youth and Black children tend to be subject to this type of differential treatment.
“So, hopefully, this case can spark positive change. I mean, it’s a mountain that we still have to climb, but hopefully this is one step on that mountain towards changing things.”
Last month, police body-camera video of a six-year-old girl handcuffed at an Orlando, Fla., school went viral after it was reported by local media. The officer in the case, who had arrested another young student that same day, was fired.