An independent human rights board recently found that a Black Canadian man was racially profiled in 2017 when he was first detained on the street by two officers, allowed to go, and minutes later followed back to his office to confront him again and issue him a ticket — for jaywalking. The board ordered the Halifax Regional Police to pay the Black man, Gyasi Symonds, more than $15,000 and formally apologize, but Symonds says the cops are getting off with “a slap on the wrist.”
Board Chair Benjamin Perryman made the announcement on Wednesday, May 5. He concluded that when Symonds was stopped by two Halifax Regional Police constables and later given a $410 ticket, it was based on his race.
In his ruling, Perryman described the encounter between Symonds and constables Paul Cadieux and Steve Logan that began when Symonds was seen crossing Gottingen Street on Jan. 24, 2017, to get coffee. The report read that the pair stopped the man as he headed for the Nook Espresso Bar across the street from his office without using a crosswalk at the corner. He was warned about jaywalking and was let go, an encounter the chairman said was “brief and cordial,” but Symonds says the detention lasted about 15 minutes.
However, it’s what took place next that’s a matter of contention, especially after Symonds told the board that he crossed at the intersection upon returning to his office. The constables claimed not only did he jaywalk once again, but he didn’t yield to a bus.
What’s not in dispute is what happened during the second encounter. Symonds had been back in his office with his coffee when the front desk called him to say two cops were in the lobby seeking “a Black man in a toque,” as he told CBC program “As It Happens” last week.
CBC described how the second interaction played out:
They asked for his ID and threatened to arrest him, he said.
“The whole demeanour and vibe of the situation was hostile,” he said. “I was humiliated and I was terrified. I thought they were going to try to arrest me, and they were completely ready to do so. One had his hand on his gun.”
Symonds’ story was corroborated by Carolyn Brodie, the commissionaire working on the front desk of the lobby, who testified on his behalf in front of the human rights board of inquiry.
“She stated that she was worried the police were going to hurt Mr. Symonds, and that she was in shock by what she considered to be their disproportionate response,” the ruling notes.
“She characterized Const. Cadieux’s demeanour as not in control, and stated that he ‘lost it’ in response to Mr. Symonds speaking. She said the incident left her feeling shaken.”
Under the province’s Motor Vehicle Act, it’s illegal for someone to cross a road at a place where there’s not a regular crossing for pedestrians and not “yield the right of way to vehicles on the roadway.” Perryman found that it was “more likely than not” that Symonds jaywalked on his return trip but concluded that the officers’ decision to wait and observe the man was based on his race.
Perryman declared that Symonds should not have been ticketed and ordered that Halifax Regional Police pay him $15,232 (about $12,568 in U.S. currency) general damages and compensation for “injury to his dignity, feelings, and self-respect.”
Symonds told CBC that’s not sufficient.
“I’m happy that the hearing worked out in my favor, but I don’t feel like it sent the message,” Symonds said in his CBC interview. “These decisions are supposed to be made in a way where it deters people from wanting to behave that way again. And, you know, it was such a mild decision that it’s almost worthwhile to keep discriminating if you can maintain your job and maintain your pension and you only have to take a course and apologize.”
Board chairman Perryman’s statement stopped short of finding actual malice on the part of the constables.
“I do not go so far as to find that the Halifax Regional Police officers constructed their evidence. … However, on the evidence before me, I am not satisfied that there was a good basis for issuing such a ticket, and there was certainly no basis whatsoever to be targeting the complainant in the first place,” Perryman wrote. “It subjected the complainant to policing that was different from other Nova Scotians going about their day. It was disproportionate to the circumstances of an individual crossing in the middle of the road to get a coffee and receiving informal education about jaywalking,” he concluded.
He also found that training for the officers was inadequate and contributed to their discriminatory behavior. He suggested that all new police hires “successfully complete training in legitimate and bias-free policing before they commence active duty, and all current police officers should be required to retake and successfully complete such training periodically.”