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Hamilton Ontario Police Racism Ignored

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  • berkman@riseup.net
    Two recent articles from the Hamilton Spectator relating to the Dixon case. ************************************************************** Apology ignores
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 8, 2006
      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
      sent Friday.

      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
      of stress."

      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,"
      Dixon wrote.

      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
      social activists.

      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
      Enlarge Image

      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
      and Kitchener.

      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.
      Charney says.

      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
      the centre.

      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,"
      he alleged.

      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.
      Charney says.

      "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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