Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that race was a factor in a 2016 incident which saw two Peel Regional Police officers handcuff a six-year-old black girl at her school.
The incident took place inside the school around the end of September 2016.
The school described the girl’s behavior as violent and said they contacted Peel Regional Police to deescalate the situation.
Upon the arrival of two male officers, the child was placed on her stomach and handcuffed at her ankles and wrists and left in that position for 28 minutes.
At that time, according to the officers, the young child was kicking, screaming and punching.
In a decision released on Feb. 24, adjudicator Brenda Bowlby said that despite the circumstances, the officers displayed a “clear overreaction.”
"While the officers had a legitimate duty to maintain the safety of the applicant, others and themselves in the circumstances where the applicant's behaviour were challenging and might have created a safety risk, this did not give them licence to treat the applicant in a way that they would not have treated a white six-year-old child in the same circumstances,” Bowlby said in her 54-page ruling.
“I have concluded that the officers' action in placing the applicant on her stomach, handcuffing her wrists behind her [back] and maintaining her in this position, with her ankles also handcuffed, for 28 minutes were disproportionate to what was necessary to provide adequate control and amounts to a clear overreaction in the circumstances."
Speaking to CTV News Toronto in February of 2017, Peel Regional Police said that they used their discretion to decide that handcuffing her was necessary to prevent the child from harming others and herself.
“In regards to the kicking and the punching and the violent actions, they had to restrain her to ensure everyone was safe,” Peel Regional Police said.
Police told CTV News Toronto at the time that this was the third time they were called to the school to deal with this child in particular.
The tribunal said that credibility was an issue in the case, noting that the officers denied that the child was actually handcuffed behind her back. Bowlby said that she did not “accept” testimony from one of the officers who said he made an error when using the term “rear cuffs” because he was stressed.
The child’s mother said that she kept her daughter home for weeks after the incident took place.
The mother eventually decided to switch her daughter to a new school where she says she is doing very well.
The case was heard over seven days at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the decision is subject to a publication ban, including the applicant’s name and the names of her family members.
With files from Kayla Goodfield