THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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Toronto Star - May 19, 2007 - EDITORIAL EDITORIAL - opinion When Jacqueline Nassiah was wrongly accused of stealing a bra at a Sears store in Mississauga four years ago, her treatment was nothing less than shocking.
EDITORIAL - opinion
When Jacqueline Nassiah was wrongly accused of stealing a bra at a Sears store in Mississauga four years ago, her treatment was nothing less than shocking.
Although Nassiah repeatedly denied she had shoplifted, the Peel police officer who was called in to investigate assumed she did not speak English, used a crude slur to describe her and threatened to throw her in jail, before finally clearing her and letting her go after two hours of interrogation.
During questioning he also ignored security videotape that exonerated her and asked for another body search after a store employee had already conducted one and found nothing.
Why was Nassiah singled out for such indecent treatment? "Because I am black," she maintained.
This week, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal agreed.
In a stern, precedent-setting decision, it found the police officer, Richard Elkington, had engaged in racial profiling. It also said Nassiah "was discriminated against when she was subjected to a more intensive, suspicious and prolonged investigation because she is black."
The tribunal awarded Nassiah $20,000. It also ordered Peel Regional Police to develop a clear directive prohibiting racial profiling, and to beef up training for officers.
This case is a stark reminder that racial profiling remains an uncomfortable fact of life for many Canadians. In 2002, a Star series showed blacks were often treated differently by Toronto police than whites in the same circumstances.
Yet rather than accept the tribunal's decision as an admonition to do better, Peel Regional Police Chief Mike Metcalf said he is "very disappointed," and is considering an appeal. Peel police say they are "committed to preventing racism of any kind in policing."
Metcalf would be hard-pressed to square that assurance with Nassiah's shabby treatment at the hands of an officer.
Troublingly, this is just one of a number of police racial profiling cases before the rights tribunal.
Nassiah's vindication is a reminder that we must remain vigilant against this insidious scourge, and the harm it inflicts on society.
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