OPP accused of racially profiling Caribbean migrant workers

The Ontario Human Rights Code is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in specific social areas such as jobs, housing, services, facilities, and contracts or agreements. The Code’s goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of race, sex, disability, and age, to name a few of the fifteen grounds. All other Ontario laws must agree with the Code.

Police ignored Ontario human rights code during migrant work

Postby Thomas » Fri Mar 04, 2022 6:54 am

Police ignored Ontario human rights code during migrant worker DNA sweep, lawyer argues

Almost 100 migrant workers were asked for their DNA even though most didn't match a suspect description

The Ontario Provincial Police showed a "complete disregard" for the province's human rights code when they conducted a broad DNA sweep of migrant workers in southwestern Ontario during a 2013 sexual assault investigation, a lawyer for the workers said during a hearing Tuesday.

"The ineffective and discriminatory targeting of Black and brown people shows a complete disregard for the code and an indifference to how this treatment affects members of a highly vulnerable, racialized community," said human rights lawyer Shane Martínez, who is representing 54 workers who are arguing that their rights were violated during the police investigation.

"No one is arguing that this was not a grave criminal offence that had occurred and it needed to be investigated. But the gravity of an offence is not a 'bypass the human rights code' card."

Martínez was making closing arguments before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal on behalf of 54 migrant workers who were among 96 whose DNA was taken after a woman was sexually assaulted in her rural Elgin County home in October 2013.

Overseeing the tribunal is Marla Burstyn. Lawyer Christopher Diana made closing submissions on behalf of the OPP, and Matthew Horner spoke on behalf of the Ontario Human Rights Commission,

Broad DNA sweep

At issue is whether asking all Black and brown migrant workers near the woman's home for their DNA violated their rights. The woman's described her attacker as between 5'10 and six feet tall, Black, with no facial hair and a low voice that may have had a Jamaican accent. She told police he had a muscular build and was possibly in his mid-to-late 20s.

She said she was confident the perpetrator was a migrant worker and believed she'd seen him near her home in rural southwestern Ontario. The attacker was later found but not because of the broad DNA sweep.

Police asked migrant workers who worked near the woman's home for their DNA, even if they didn't meet the physical description she provided. Most did not fit the description except for the colour of their skin.

Economic class, race, immigration status and the location of where the police investigation was happening all have to be considered, Martínez said.

"These are people who are on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder in Canada, doing the work we refuse to do ... Being poor and Black compounds their vulnerability," he said.

"These workers live under a constant threat of removal from Canada and ... for eight months of the year live on the literal margins of our society, excluded from the social fabric of our lives, living in housing provided by their employers."

Officers showed a composite sketch to white members of the community and provided a suspect description to media, but didn't show that to the migrant workers. They collected DNA from those workers who had an alibi for the night of the assault.

The OPP didn't have training in, experience with, or policies about DNA sweeps, and still don't, Martínez said.

Martínez asked for $30,000 for each of the affected workers.

The OPP has argued that they had to get DNA from a large number of people because the one point they were confident about was that the assailant was a migrant worker who lived close to the woman. Her other description could have been faulty, Diana said.

"Context matters. This context is an investigation into a violent stranger-on-stranger sexual assault in a woman's home, who she described as a migrant worker from a nearby farm. In the real world of criminal investigations, the OPP does not get to work backwards," he said.

Police investigation was urgent

The woman had suffered significant trauma, banged her head, was blindfolded and was not confident she could describe the attacker to a sketch artist, Diana said. That led police to look at all migrant workers in the vicinity, he added.

"Based on all those things that have happened to the victim, there could have been a wide range of suspects and they had limited time to get it done. They would have been reckless if they had relied on her description and not looked at others," Diana said.

"There was urgency because the workers would be returning home soon."

The OPP were not focused on skin colour but rather "migrant workers in close proximity" to the victim, Diana said.

"There's no doubt that the migrant workers were asked because they were migrant workers. That doesn't mean that race was a factor."

Burstyn said she must make a decision about whether the workers' rights were violated within six months, though she hopes to be quicker than that. If their rights were violated, there will be another hearing about non-monetary remedies and how to prevent something similar from happening again.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/p ... -1.6368738
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Final arguments loom in human-rights case over police DNA sw

Postby Thomas » Fri Mar 04, 2022 7:15 am

Final arguments loom in human-rights case over police DNA sweep

The lawyer representing 54 migrant workers caught in a 2013 DNA sweep in Elgin County is seeking $30,000 in damages for each worker as the legal team prepares to make closing arguments in its human rights case this week.

The lawyer representing 54 migrant workers caught in a 2013 DNA sweep in Elgin County is seeking $30,000 in damages for each worker as the legal team prepares to make closing arguments in its human rights case this week.

The counsel for the Bayham migrant workers and Ministry of the Solicitor General and Ontario Provincial Police will make their closing arguments at a Human Rights Tribunal hearing Tuesday morning.

“It’s been a really long process and I think that everybody is looking forward to having some finality to it,” said Shane Martínez, the pro bono counsel for the 54 migrant workers. “There’s the potential for appeals, but we’re cautiously optimistic that once this stage of it wraps up, it will be much smoother sailing.”

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario hearing began in November. The administrative tribunal hears and adjudicates complaints of discrimination made under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Both sides have made written submissions and will give their closing arguments at a half-day hearing on Tuesday, Martínez said.

Citing other analogous damage estimates from the tribunal, Martínez is asking the panel to award Leon Logan, a migrant worker and lead applicant in the case, $30,000 in damages.

According to written submissions of the migrant workers’ closing arguments, the award would compensate Logan for the alleged infringement on “his inherent right to be free from discrimination and for injury to his dignity, feelings and self-respect.”

During an investigation into a violent sexual assault in Bayham Township in October 2013, Elgin OPP collected voluntary DNA samples from about 100 migrant workers in the area. Not all of the affected workers chose to be part of the human rights tribunal action.

The investigators did the sweep so they could compare the samples to a DNA profile of the suspect that was generated from a sexual assault kit and evidence left at the scene.

Investigators collected DNA from a wide range of workers, regardless of their age or physical characteristics. The suspect was described as Black and five-foot-ten to six-feet tall, but investigators collected samples from workers who were five-foot-two to six-foot-six and 22 to 68 years old.

Police have said time was running out on investigators, with the harvest season nearly over and most migrant workers expected to soon leave Canada.

Martínez said the human rights case has provided even more clarity into the DNA dragnet.

“We knew that we had a strong case from the outset, but the evidence, even from police officers on cross-examination, revealed a lot about the case that was previously unknown,” he said.

If the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario does find there was a violation of the province’s human rights code, Martínez said another hearing will be scheduled to decide on “non-monetary and systemic remedies” for the migrant workers.

“This has to do with things like destroying the DNA profiles that they kept on the migrant workers and implementing policies and procedures that would safeguard something like this from happening again in the future,” he said.

Only a handful of migrant workers refused to comply with the DNA sweep, including Henry Cooper of Trinidad. Police generated Cooper’s DNA profile from one of his discarded cigarette butts and other evidence, matched it to the suspect’s genetic profile and laid charges.

Cooper pleaded guilty to sexual assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and uttering death threats in June 2014 and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

https://lfpress.com/news/local-news/fin ... -dna-sweep
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