Hamilton Ontario Police Racism Ignored
- Two recent articles from the Hamilton Spectator relating to the Dixon
Apology ignores racial claim: Dixon
By Paul Morse
The Hamilton Spectator
(Oct 31, 2006)
A local tradeshow worker says an apology from Hamilton police over a
mistaken arrest "is a good start" but does not go far enough because
it ignores his claim the arrest was racially motivated.
Michael Dixon, 40, praised Chief Brian Mullan for promising a full
review of the case, but demanded he bring in an independent outside
investigator to look at why police internal affairs conducted
a "whitewash" and exonerated the two arresting officers.
"One of those mistakes was the sham internal investigation conducted
by your professional standards branch," Dixon told Mullan in a letter
Dixon was arrested Aug. 15, 2003, for a jewellery store break-in
moments after he stepped off a commuter bus from Toronto during the
first 24 hours of the Great Blackout.
Dixon, who is black, was ordered to the ground and handcuffed after
officers chased and lost sight of a white suspect. Constables Oliver
Mann and Chris Beaulne ignored Dixon's pleas to confirm with the
nearby bus driver that he'd just gotten off the bus.
Dixon spent almost four days in jail and then was forced to spend the
next nine months under strict bail conditions, including a curfew.
Earlier this month, the two officers pleaded guilty to misconduct
under the Police Services Act for failing to check Dixon's alibi,
despite repeated demands they do so from a Crown prosecutor. They
were each fined three days' pay.
Mullan formally apologized to Dixon last week for Mann and Beaulne's
failure to conduct a timely investigation of his alibi. But, in a
written reply, Dixon said Mullan's apology leaves him
wondering "whether you appreciate the full scope of my suffering ...
The misconduct and the stonewalling by (police) cause me a great deal
Dixon tried to file a complaint against police months after his
arrest, but was refused a complaint form by a senior officer.
Eventually, police's internal affairs reviewed the arrest and
concluded Mann and Beaulne had not done anything wrong.
Dixon, meanwhile, launched a human rights commission racial
discrimination complaint and filed a civil lawsuit.
Dixon also took his case to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police
Services. OCCPS ordered Hamilton police to charge its two officers
with misconduct after an external investigation by Peel police.
Mullan has promised a full review of the case, including the
professional standards branch's investigation.
But Dixon wants the review conducted by an independent, external
investigator, and to include the community in it.
"The review cannot shy away from the question of how racial issues
are dealt with by police, and the results ... must be made public,"
Acting police Chief Tom Marlor referred all questions about the case
to Mullan, who was unavailable yesterday.
They fought the law
A student project takes aim at police misconduct through small claims
Being manhandled by police, falsely arrested and subjected to
undercover surveillance were one thing. But when David Charney was
thrown in jail for eight days awaiting bail on a charge
of "obstructing police," it pushed him over the edge.
Mr. Charney, an advocate for homeless youth, was determined to make
the Waterloo Regional Police accountable for what he saw as the
latest chapter in a long-running campaign of harassment against
A third-year law student at York University's Osgoode Hall Law
School, Mr. Charney fought back with the tool he knew best: the law.
He launched a $10,000 lawsuit against the Waterloo force in small
claims court. On the eve of his trial in June -- legal arguments
finely honed and 20 witnesses lined up to testify -- Mr. Charney, 34,
rolled up his sleeves to play hardball with police lawyers.
"They offered me $3,000," he says. "I laughed at that. I said,
basically, 'It's $9,000 or nothing.' "
Print Edition - Section Front
The police ponied up. It was a capitulation that both the Waterloo
and other local police forces will soon come to rue, since it
convinced Mr. Charney and a handful of fellow law students that they
had stumbled across an ideal vehicle to keep police misconduct in
check. The Police Accountability Small Claims Collective was born.
The group wasted no time distributing posters ("Hold the police
accountable. Have your day in court. Get some justice. We can
represent you for FREE") and approaching community groups in Toronto
Four months later, they have filed five formal statements of claim --
four against Waterloo Regional Police and one against Toronto police -
- for alleged assault, false arrest or negligent investigation.
Fourteen more lawsuits are in the works.
"More are coming in every week," Mr. Charney says. "They may involve
someone who was just walking along and got beaten or someone who is
pepper-sprayed at a protest.
"It's a new strategy for police accountability. Slowly, word is
spreading about us. These kind of false arrests and illegal searches
go on every day, so there won't be any shortage for our group. We'll
be able to pick the best and strongest cases."
The advantages of a small-claims lawsuit are significant. Cases are
heard much faster and rules are less formal than for a lawsuit heard
in a superior court. In addition, a judge can't require an
unsuccessful plaintiff to pay more than $1,500 in legal costs.
"Lawyers are not going to take these cases to win just a few thousand
dollars," Mr. Charney added. He says it leaves the field wide open to
budding law students.
Mr. Charney's original lawsuit listed a series of incidents involving
six different Waterloo police officers. They stemmed from incidents
at a Kitchener centre known as The Spot, which caters to addicted and
homeless youths. "We had lots of success mobilizing youth, monitoring
the police and getting people to stick up for their friends," Mr.
Volunteer organizers such as Mr. Charney came under close police
scrutiny after they began compiling harassment complaints against
individual officers. Undercover police officers tried to infiltrate
Mr. Charney alleged that he was regularly subjected to abusive
treatment, spontaneous questioning in the streets and homophobic
At one point, he was also charged with defamatory libel for
distributing a poster that depicted a particular officer and accused
him of brutality. According to his statement of claim, the police
falsely informed the Crown on that case that Mr. Charney had a
history of assaulting police and was linked to an "extremist group."
In another incident detailed in his statement of claim, Mr. Charney
said that while putting up posters in Kitchener, he was attacked and
arrested by an officer. "This officer smashed my head on the sidewalk
and made sexual comments about me while I was being strip-searched,"
Mr. Charney sums it up this way: "It has been a long-running battle."
David Dyer, a lawyer for the Waterloo Regional Police Services Board,
declined to comment on the lawsuits or the allegations in them.
The group project comes at a pivotal juncture in a developing area of
law. With judges and juries no longer willing to automatically side
with police as they once did, civil litigation targeting police has
picked up considerably in the past few years. Veteran Toronto lawyers
such as Sean Dewart, Julian Falconer, Louis Sokolov and Barry Swadron
have made police litigation a specialty.
Mr. Sokolov praised the law students' approach and noted that one of
the trademarks of police misconduct is that victims "are
overwhelmingly poor and marginalized." He says their project jells
nicely with a case he will be arguing in the Supreme Court of Canada
next month, on behalf of a Hamilton man who was falsely arrested for
a series of robberies.
If the appeal is successful, Mr. Sokolov says, civilians will be able
to more easily prove that botched police investigations were
negligent without actually having to show that there was malicious
While their small-claims project has played havoc with the group's
studies at law school, "it's a priority, I guess," Mr. Charney
says. "And we do see value in this as part of our legal education.
You get to apply what you learn in class in a very real way."
He says the collective is actively searching for recruits at Osgoode
Hall and the University of Toronto's law school in order to ensure
that it lives on after the current members are called to the bar and
"This is definitely the kind of work I want to continue doing," Mr.
"The more this group is active and has a presence, the more other
students are going to come out of law school with an interest in this
kind of work. Hopefully, we can play a role in making police more
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