by Wendy Gillis and Jacques Gallant
Two years after Jermaine Carby was fatally shot by police following a traffic stop in Brampton, his family has filed a $12-million lawsuit alleging racial profiling, claiming Peel Regional Police service’s practice of “carding” has disproportionately targeted racialized people, especially young black men.
In a statement of claim filed Tuesday against the Peel Regional Police Services Board, Chief Jennifer Evans and seven Peel officers, Carby’s family alleges he was racially profiled and subjected to an unlawful “street check” by police on the night of his death, setting off a fatal chain of events.
Far from an isolated incident, Carby case was “just one example of a systematic and co-ordinated policy and practice employed by (Peel Police),” at the direction of Evans and the Peel police board, according to the statement of claim.
“In this case, the unlawful street check led to a confrontation which ended when Mr. Carby was shot and killed,” the lawsuit, prepared by Toronto lawyer Davin Charney, alleges.
Carby’s family also claims police failed to employ de-escalation techniques to avoid a dangerous confrontation with a man they knew was suffering from a serious mental health issue.
Lorna Robinson, Carby’s mother, is seeking compensation for psychological injuries including depression, anxiety and nervous shock.
“It’s affected me a whole lot, as well as my family, and we deserve compensation,” Robinson told the Star. “We miss him.”
None of the allegations have been proven in court. A statement of defence has not yet been filed.
Sgt. Josh Colley, spokesperson for Peel police, said in an email Tuesday that the matter is currently before the courts and the service is “unable to comment at this time.”
Carby, 33, was shot three times on Sept. 24, 2014 by Const. Ryan Reid, after the car in which he was a passenger was pulled over for a traffic stop in Brampton by another Peel officer, Const. Jason Senechal.
Last year, the Special Investigations Unit, the Ontario civilian watchdog that probes deaths involving police, cleared Peel police of any criminal wrongdoing in the case, finding the officer that shot Carby was acting in self-defence.
The SIU did not name any of the officers involved in the case. Their identities became public at a coroner’s inquest into Carby’s death earlier this year.
According to the SIU and evidence heard at the coroner’s inquest, Senechal asked for Carby’s identity after pulling over a vehicle in which Carby was a passenger. The traffic stop was made because the licence plate was askew and front lights turned off.
During the stop, Senechal asked Carby for his identity, then ran his name through the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), a national database that includes criminal files. There, he discovered Carby had a lengthy criminal record and outstanding warrants from British Columbia. CPIC also cautioned Senechal, via a warning note, that Carby had previously attempted to disarm a police officer.
According to the SIU, when Senechal returned to question Carby about the warrants, Carby pulled out a knife and moved toward officers, prompting Reid, one of the officers who arrived as backup, to shoot.
It was initially unclear why Carby was asked for his identification, since he was the passenger in the car. It was revealed during Senechal’s testimony at the coroner’s inquest that he asked Carby for his identification because he was conducting a “street check.”
Also known as “carding,” street checks are the controversial police tactic where officers ask an individual not suspected of crime for identification, then enter that personal information into a police database. A series of Star investigations has shown the practice has been used disproportionately against young black men.
The Carby family lawsuit alleges Peel police’s practice of street checks “disproportionately targets and affects racialized people, especially young Black men, including Mr. Carby.” The street checks policy was implemented without proper training and “led to systemic and widespread abuses,” the lawsuit claims.
“If he wasn’t carded, he’d still be here,” said Carby’s cousin, La Tanya Grant, who wants recognition from the courts that Carby’s rights were violated.
“It’s a controversial practice that we’ve been trying to stop. If we as Canadians are supposed to take the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) seriously, then it doesn’t matter who violates them, they need to be held accountable.”
In response to years of criticism about carding practices by police across the province, the Ontario government earlier this year passed regulations banning the arbitrary and race-based collection of identifying information.
In April, Evans said that in response to the province’s carding regulations, “changes to language, definitions and policy had been implemented . . . ahead of the targeted dates” set by the province.
The Carby family lawsuit also claims wrongdoing on the part of the Peel police officer who made what the SIU called the “highly regrettable” decision to remove Carby’s knife from the scene after he was shot.
In cases where it’s evident the SIU will be called in to investigate, such as a fatal shooting involving police, the police agency involved must only secure the scene until SIU investigators arrive to take over. In this case, the weapon, a 13-centimetre serrated kitchen knife, was not located by SIU investigators until several hours later, when an acting Peel sergeant handed it over.
Loparco ruled that, while there was sufficient evidence to show Carby had a knife, its removal “cast a pall” over the investigation. The Carby family lawsuit, however, claims Carby “did not have a knife at all, as evidenced by the fact that no knife was found at the scene by the SIU.”
At the coroner’s inquest, the officer who removed the knife, Const. Justin Chittenden, was adamant that he had to pick up the knife in order to preserve evidence.
Peel Regional Police Association president Paul Black also previously defended the officer, saying it was seized “in good faith.”
Black did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Wendy Gillis can be reached at [email protected]