Two Halifax Regional Police officers discriminated against a Black man when they watched him, followed him into his workplace and ticketed him for jaywalking four years ago, an independent board of inquiry of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission has ruled.
As a result, the municipality has been ordered to apologize to the complainant, boost anti-Black racism training for police and pay about $15,000 — much less than the complainant wanted.
The incident in question happened in January 2017. HRP constables Steve Logan and Pierre Paul Cadieux confronted Gyasi Symonds after he crossed Gottingen Street mid-block to get a coffee at the Nook. The two officers gave Symonds a warning for jaywalking, he asked if he was free to go, and then walked into the café.
But the encounter didn’t end there. The officers, rookie beat cops assigned to the Gottingen area, hung around the block and watched Symonds cross the street again.
As the Halifax Examiner reported following one of the three days of the board of inquiry hearing in November 2020, the officers said Symonds jaywalked again and was almost hit by a bus. Symonds said he crossed at the crosswalk.
The officers then followed Symonds into his workplace at 2131 Gottingen St., also known as the MacDonald building, and told the commissionaire they were looking for “a Black man in a toque.” The commissionaire, Carolyn Brodie, testified that “One of them said, ‘He jaywalked and we’re trying to save his life.’”
Eventually Symonds came down to the lobby from his office, an argument ensued, and the officers ticketed Symonds for failing to “yield the right of way to vehicles upon the roadway,” as the Motor Vehicle Act describes it.
Symonds filed a complaint to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, alleging the two officers discriminated against him on the basis of his race in contravention of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. The commission set up an independent board of inquiry, chaired by lawyer Benjamin Perryman, to hear the complaint in November.
In his 50-page decision released Wednesday, Perryman found the two officers did in fact discriminate against Symonds.
“I find that race was a factor in the police officers’ decision to target the Complainant for surveillance and investigation. This decision resulted in a summary offence ticket and constitutes adverse treatment,” Perryman wrote.
Perryman found the initial interaction between the officers and Symonds, when they approached him on his way into the Nook, wasn’t discriminatory.
“Informal education, done properly, does not create an adverse impact in the provision of services. Even if it did, I am satisfied that race or colour played no factor in Cst. Cadieux’s decision to provide informal education in this case,” Perryman wrote.
He referred to that interaction as Interaction #1. What he calls Interaction #2 was more problematic, Perryman ruled:
What happened next is extraordinary and does constitute discrimination contrary to the Act. Instead of continuing on their patrol, Cst. Logan and Cst. Cadieux decided to target the Complainant for further investigation and surveillance. Race was a factor in this decision.
Cst. Logan admitted that the two officers decided to “wait” for the Complainant to exit the Nook. When asked by counsel for the Commission if this behaviour was normal, Cst. Logan responded that the officers “didn’t have to be anywhere.” He also added that the decision to wait was a “deescalating tactic” to deter the Complainant from jaywalking again.
The officers clearly decided to wait for the Complainant and to target him for further investigation and surveillance.
The only subjective ground offered for this targeting decision was Cst. Logan’s belief in further surveillance as a “deescalating tactic”. He did not state that he believed it was likely that the Complainant would commit another summary offence or that he had reasonable suspicion that this might occur or even that he had a mere hunch.
Objectively, the decision to target the Complainant for further investigation and surveillance was disproportionate to the circumstances. At best, the officers had observed a contravention of the Motor Vehicle Act, one they found sufficiently minor so as to warrant informal education only. The Board was not provided with any objective evidence to suggest that a person who has committed a Motor Vehicle Act violation is more likely to commit another summary offence shortly thereafter.
Cst. Logan’s and Cst. Cadieux’s decision to target the Complainant for investigation and surveillance constitutes an adverse impact in the provision of policing services. 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.
Perryman found no other discrimination in the ensuing interactions, but went through them anyway.
On the contested issue of the second street crossing, Perryman sided with Symonds, finding the officers’ testimony didn’t match up with their notes:
Based on my assessment of the credibility and reliability of the evidence before me, I find it more likely than not that the Complainant did not jaywalk on his return trip. I do not go so far as to find that the HRP officers constructed their evidence or that they decided to ticket the Complainant out of malice or other impropriety. They may have thought they observed something that would warrant a summary offence ticket. 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 found that the officers overreacted in the lobby, Interaction #3, but didn’t find that they discriminated against Symonds there:
The evidence before me suggests that the officers, particularly Cst. Cadieux, came into the lobby of the MacDonald Building much hotter than was to be expected in the circumstances, even taking into consideration the preceding interactions they had with the Complainant. But I am not satisfied that Interaction #3 was as one-sided as the Complainant suggests. He had to be told that he could be arrested for obstruction if he did not produce his identification. He was contesting the legitimacy of the officers’ actions and threatening a complaint against them. This was not a cordial interaction.
Based on my assessment of the credibility and reliability of the evidence before me, I am not satisfied that the Complainant has proven, on a balance of probabilities, that race or colour were factors in how he was treated in the lobby of the MacDonald Building. The interaction should not have happened because the Complainant should not have been targeted. But the Complainant was not treated differently than a White pedestrian would have been in similar circumstances.
The inquiry also identified significant gaps in HRP’s training, but Perryman didn’t find the lack of training to be discriminatory:
Staff Sgt. MacDonald also explained that neither Cst. Cadieux nor Cst. Logan had received “block training” in de-escalation or “legitimate and bias-free policing” until after the incident. The HRP’s “verbal judo” course in de-escalation was offered in 2017 after the incident. The HRP’s “legitimate and bias-free policing” course was offered in 2009 (before the officers joined the force) but was not offered again until 2018 (after the incident). The reasons for this large time gap in providing the bias-free policing course are not clear.
Based on the record before me, I find that it is more likely than not that the Respondent’s approach to training police officers contributed to the actions of Cst. Logan and Cst. Cadieux. HRM allowed the HRP to operate for almost a decade without offering the “legitimate and biasfree policing” course. As Staff Sgt. MacDonald explained: “the basic idea [of this course] was to help people examine any bias that they might have and how it might affect their actions.” I cannot say definitively that Cst. Logan and Cst. Cadieux would have acted differently if they had received more comprehensive EDI training, but I can say that their lack of EDI training contributed to their actions and to the adverse impact experienced by the complaint.
As already stated, an adverse impact alone does not constitute discrimination. Inadequate training that contributes to an adverse impact will only amount to discrimination where a protected characteristic is a factor in the inadequate training. The Board was not presented with evidence to explain the Respondent’s decisions regarding police training. Accordingly, it cannot be concluded that the inadequate training was discriminatory under the Act
Symonds, who represented himself in the hearing, sought significant damages. He requested $1,600 in wages lost attending the hearing, $400,000 to compensate for past and future lost income, and $400,000 in general damages for pain and suffering.
Along with the money, he wanted Logan and Cadieux fired, criminally prosecuted, forced to write 2,000-word essays, forced to apologize publicly and mandated to undergo anti-racism training. He also sought apologies from the municipality and police, and mandatory anti-racism training for all “high-level staff and officers” with a report to the Board of Police Commissioners confirming the details of the training.
Symonds calculated the lost wages based on his assertion that he was passed up for multiple promotions based on the incident happening at his workplace. Symonds also said he was PTSD as a result of the incident, he now fears the police, and “that the interactions were humiliating and caused lasting psychological and physiological damage.”
HRM’s lawyers argued Symonds should only get $15,000 and that the non-monetary damages were covered by HRP’s new Journey to Change training program (the one councillors added $60,000 to the budget for).
Perryman found Symonds didn’t back up his financial requests, and in total, he awarded him little more than $15,000.
First, he declined to allow any money for past and future lost income, arguing Symonds provided insufficient evidence related to the jobs he applied for.
On the general damages, Perryman compared Symonds’ situation to other cases and found “$14,000 is warranted in the circumstances.” He especially compared Symonds’ case to that of a Black mail carrier in Toronto who was carded by police while doing his job.
That man, Ronald Phipps, got the equivalent of $12,245 in current dollars. Perryman found Symonds’ case was worse both because of the circumstances in the lobby of Symonds’ workplace, and because HRP has so failed to train its officers:
For reasons that are unclear, HRM permitted the HRP to operate for close to a decade without offering its training course on legitimate and bias-free policing. In the relevant time period, HRM took no steps to ensure that new police officers received EDI [Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion] training before interfacing with the public. As a result, Cst. Logan and Cst. Cadieux did not receive this training until they had already discriminated against the Complainant. This failure to train contributed to the harm experienced by the Complainant.
Perryman also awarded Symonds $810 for lost wages to attend the hearing, calculating the figure based on Symonds’ salary, and another $413 to reimburse Symonds for the ticket, which he paid in order to renew his licence.
The total monetary award is $15,223.
On the non-monetary remedies, Perryman wrote that the human rights board of inquiry has no power to fire or prosecute Logan and Cadieux, and “Termination would also be excessive in the circumstances.”
Perryman wrote that the board could force the officers to apologize or write essays, but he was “concerned that the essay and some of the apologies requested by the Complainant are more about punishment than redress.”
He did, however, order the municipality to apologize to Symonds and provide the Journey to Change training to both officers.
Without knowing the details of what it would cost to provide that training to all officers, Perryman didn’t order HRP to provide it, but did write that all officers “should be required to 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.”
Perryman also wrote that the “performance metrics the HRP uses to evaluate this type of training and its EDI-related courses should be publicly available as well as the data resulting from these performance metrics.”
The Examiner asked the police and the municipality for comment on Wednesday, asking for a response to the decision, whether the officers will face further discipline, whether HRP will train all officers, and whether HRP will make the performance metrics and data public.
Neera Ritcey with HRP said the municipality, not the police, would respond “as HRM legal represented in this case.” Municipal spokesperson Maggie-Jane Spray said that response would come Thursday. The Examiner will update this story when it comes.
Update — May 6, 2021:
Spray emailed the Examiner the following statement, answering none of our questions:
The municipality is reviewing the decision from the Human Rights Commission to determine next steps. There is no further information available at this time.
The Halifax Examiner is an advertising-free, subscriber-supported news site. Your subscription makes this work possible; please subscribe.
Some people have asked that we additionally allow for one-time donations from readers, so we’ve created that opportunity, via the PayPal button below. We also accept e-transfers, cheques, and donations with your credit card; please contact iris “at” halifaxexaminer “dot” ca for details.