Peel police ordered to pay $35,000 in damages for handcuffing six-year-old Black girl

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A police force west of Toronto must pay tens of thousands of dollars in damages years after officers handcuffed a six-year-old Black girl at her school and held her on her stomach for nearly a half hour, a human rights tribunal has ruled.

The Peel Regional Police Board has until mid-February to pay $35,000 to the girl's mother in trust for counselling fees and injury to dignity, feelings and respect, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario said in a remedy decision dated Dec. 31, 2020.

It comes nearly a year after the tribunal found police had breached the girl's human rights in the incident, which it said was likely impacted by the officers' implicit racial biases.

"That 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," Brenda Bowlby wrote in the remedy decision.

"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."

Bowlby said the two officers had "no training in dealing with children in crises," but were called in to handle a situation with the girl that the school hadn't been able to manage on Sept. 30, 2016.

The girl had struck another child and launched books at the principal while a behaviour teaching assistant tried to calm her down, according to tribunal documents.

The girl -- whose identity is protected by a publication ban -- tried to get away from the officers, biting and scratching at them, and officers eventually handcuffed her, with her hands behind her back, Bowlby's ruling said.

They also cuffed her ankles, and held her on her stomach on a padded bench for 28 minutes, Bowlby wrote.

"One of the officers said that placing a child on her stomach with her hands cuffed behind her back put her at risk of asphyxiation," she said.

Bowlby noted that the girl was a "small six-year-old," weighing only 48 pounds, compared to the officers, who were both six feet tall and weighed between 190 and 200 pounds each.

She said the officers overreacted, and pointed to expert testimony that racial bias likely played a role in their response.

She also said the officers were "polite and professional" throughout their interaction, and the girl was uninjured.

"It is fortunate that there were no physical injuries to the applicant since she struggled throughout the 28 minutes," she wrote.

But she said that doesn't diminish the seriousness of their actions.

The initial decision said the girl 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 said the officers handcuffed the girl to keep her and others safe.

The force noted in a written statement Thursday that the officers were investigated by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director and no charges of misconduct were laid.

"However it was determined that these officers, and all officers responding to schools, would benefit from further training involving crisis intervention techniques," the force said.

It has already implemented some of that training, and is continuing to develop more, it added.

But even so, the Peel Police Service has come under fire in recent months for its relationship with racialized communities.

In October it formally cancelled a program that placed uniformed officers in schools -- after initially pausing the program in July -- acknowledging the "long-standing concerns about systemic racism and the disproportionately punitive effects'' such initiatives can produce.

The force has also been criticized for an outsized number of police shootings.

In July, an officer who has quit the force was charged criminally in the shooting of Chantelle Krupka, a 34-year-old Black woman.

And the Special Investigations Unit found no basis to charge the officer who shot and killed 26-year-old D'Andre Campbell, a Black man with schizophrenia who called 911 when he was in mental health crisis.

The SIU continues to investigate several other fatal police shootings involving racialized people, including those of Jamal Francique and Ejaz Choudry.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2021.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press