Black girl handcuffed by police in Ontario at age 6 awarded $35K in damages by rights tribunal

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has awarded $35,000 in damages to a young Black child handcuffed by police at an elementary school in Ontario’s Peel region when she was six years old.

The decision comes approximately one year after the tribunal ruled that Peel police used “racially discriminatory” force against the girl and that the actions of the two Peel police officers constituted a “very serious” breach of her human rights.

“I am happy this rather lengthy and difficult chapter is finally over,” the child’s mother and litigation guardian was quoted as saying in a news release from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre Thursday.

“I can now focus on what lies ahead, which is making my daughter whole. This decision gives my community hope where we often feel there’s no recourse.” 

CBC News first reported on the case three years ago and did not identify the family or school where the 2016 incident took place to protect the child’s identity. 

Police said they acted for ‘safety’ of students and child

On Sept. 30, 2016, Peel police received a 911 call from the girl’s school. Two officers handcuffed her wrists and ankles, placing her on her stomach with her hands behind her back, and according to the legal support centre’s news release, they held the girl in that position for approximately 28 minutes. 

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, Human Rights Tribunal

The release noted that it was the fourth time the school had called the police about the child that month alone.

Speaking to CBC News in 2017, Peel police said the girl had been acting violently, kicking and punching administrators.

Sgt. Josh Colley said the officers acted in the interest of “the safety of other students and ultimately the child.”

“My daughter didn’t have a knife, my daughter didn’t have a gun, there’s no way my daughter could’ve harmed anybody in that situation,” the girl’s mother said in an interview at the time. 

In deciding on a remedy, adjudicator Brenda Bowlby found the officers’ actions “shocking” and “punitive,” the news release said.

According to the release, Bowlby said the child also became fearful of police as a result, was teased, suffered humiliation and withdrew from her friends.

Incident ‘will affect her into the future’

“The applicant has suffered implicit harm in experiencing anti-Black racism at a very tender age,” wrote Bowlby.

“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. 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.” 

While the tribunal awarded the monetary damages, including for psychological and trauma counselling, it stopped short of ordering revised training and protocols for officers in schools.

Nor did it order changes to data collection or compliance measures, citing the fact that Peel police recently entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Ontario Human Rights Commission requiring the force to make changes in how it provides services to children under 12. 

The force and the Peel Police Services Board have also agreed to legally binding remedies to tackle systemic racism in policing, the tribunal noted.

“I’m pleased with the Tribunal’s decision,” the girl’s mother said in the tribunal’s news release. 

“But I do hope the MOU isn’t just smartly worded and celebrated while police officers continue to have harmful interactions with Black bodies on the ground — with little risk of even professional consequences.

“These policy changes need to affect our daily lives.”

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