Toronto ombudsman says TTC probe into detention of black man 'fell short'

TORONTO — The Toronto Transit Commission's investigation into the videotaped detainment of a young black man last year "fell short," the city's ombudsman said in a report released Thursday.

Susan Opler said the probe into the incident did not ask enough questions, make clear findings of fact or transparently analyze evidence that could have supported a finding of unconscious racial bias.

"It fell short in several important ways," Opler's report said. "Overall, we found that the TTC's investigation into this incident was not adequately thorough, fair and transparent."

The TTC's investigation found that there was insufficient evidence to support allegations of misconduct against the transit fare inspectors who detained the young man, except for one instance in which an inspector inappropriately smiled at him.

Oppler said there had been widespread concern about the incident.

"It was important for the TTC to get this investigation right," she said in a statement. "The public needs to have confidence that the TTC will fairly, thoroughly and transparently investigate incidents like this and fix any problems it finds."

The incident occurred in February last year, when three inspectors detained the man on a mid-town streetcar platform. Video on social media showed inspectors pinning him face down on the ground and he is heard yelling, "you're hurting me."

One of the inspectors alleged that before the altercation, the man stared at him. This prompted the inspector to ask if he needed assistance, but the man did not respond, according to the TTC's final report on its investigation, which was released in July 2018.

The probe said the man entered into the "personal space" of one the inspectors as they exited the streetcar, and the inspector pushed the man, who fell backwards into the vehicle. The man then got up and appeared to try to punch the inspector, who deflected it.

The man was then detained by the inspectors until Toronto police arrived, according to the TTC.

Opler's report said it looked at the TTC's investigation and not the actual altercation, which is before the courts. While the report was critical, it did commend the TTC for immediately looking into the incident and retaining all surveillance footage from the streetcar.

The report made six recommendations to improve the transit commission's investigations, such as providing additional training for its internal investigators and ensuring impartiality.

The TTC said it plans to implement all of the ombudsman's recommendations before the end of the year including developing an "anti-racism strategy" with an anti-racism task force.

"We need to ensure that all of our customers feel safe and secure when dealing with our employees," TTC CEO Richard J. Leary said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Leary did not directly answer to whether or not he believes the TTC has a racial bias, but he said he is concerned that is the "public perception" of the commission.

"If the public has that concern — I have that concern," said Leary. "I think that we all understand that there's racism in society. The TTC is a microcosm of society."

Alanna Rizza, The Canadian Press