Sunday 9 August 2009

Was the cop really a racist?

Lorne Gunter wrote an article for the National Post that was published on July 31, 2009. In it, he chastised Ontario’s Human Rights Commission for a decision that it made with respect to the finding of guilt against a Constable Michael Shaw of the Toronto Police Force. He said in his article;

“As if more proof were needed of how out-of-control Canada's human-rights commissions have become, and what a threat they pose to impartial justice, along comes the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal's ruling last month against Michael Shaw, a white Toronto police officer.”

The background in this case is as follows;

In the spring of 2005, Constable Shaw was patrolling the Bridal Path; a singularly wealthy Toronto neighbourhood composed of large mansions on sprawling multi-acre estates. Ronald Phipps, a black man, was criss-crossing a street in the Bridal Path, delivering letters as a substitute for the regular mail carrier, who was away. Even though Mr. Phipps was wearing a Canada Post uniform and carrying two official mail satchels, the officer thought his behaviour was unusual, especially in one instance when Mr. Phipps returned to a home at which he had already delivered mail, and retrieved it.

The officer followed Mr. Phipps for a short distance, then asked him for some identification. He ran his name through police computers, thanked him for his cooperation and sent him on his way. He also verified Mr. Phipps' identity with a regular letter-carrier he knew in the area, a carrier who happened to be white.

Mr. Phipps concluded that although the police officer had been polite and apologetic for having asking him to provide him with ID, he had been racially profiled. He filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

In June of this year, June, adjudicator Kaye Joachim determined that the fact that Mr. Phipps "was an African-Canadian in an affluent neighbourhood was a factor, a significant factor, and probably the predominant factor, whether consciously or unconsciously, in Constable Shaw's actions." He found the officer guilty of discrimination.

Mr. Phipps claims that since the incident, he has had trouble sleeping, has lost weight and is having difficulty fulfilling his second job as a personal trainer; all because a police officer asked him to produce some ID four years ago. In my opinion, that is hogwash. I think he merely said that because he had hoped that it would lend credence to his claim.

As Lorne Gunter aptly said it in his article, Mr. Phipp’s complaint make him sound like someone with a bigger cause in mind from the start, someone who may just have been waiting for a chance to lodge a complaint.

While the adjudicator, Mr. Joachim, could find no evidence that Constable Shaw knowingly discriminated against Mr. Phipps, the adjudicator said no evidence of intent was needed. Whether "consciously or unconsciously," the policeman had offended Mr. Phipps by his actions; he had caused the letter-carrier to feel discriminated against and that was enough.

Mr. Gunter disagrees with that finding. He said in his article;

“Guilt, now, apparently is solely in the mind of the complainant. No one needs to prove you had intent to discriminate, that you had a guilty mind. The minute a rights charge is leveled, it is up to you to establish your innocence.”

First of all, guilt is established if it can be shown that you have a guilty mind. Secondly, once an accusation is made against you, it is up to you to explain that you had no intentions of discriminating against the person who has complained against you.

I think that the constable did have a guilty mind and it wasn’t an unconscious one. He saw a black man wearing a postal uniform walking door-to-door in a very well-to-do neighbourhood and despite that, he presumed that he was doing something wrong. If the man was a white man wearing a postal uniform would he have stopped him and asked for ID? I think not. If he saw a black man in a postal uniform walking door-to-door in a run-down neighbourhood, would he have stopped him? Again I think not.

This officer came to the conclusion that a black man in a well-to-do neighbourhood going door-to-door does not fit the profile of a decent citizen. We all know what happened recently in the United States when a black professor was forcing his way into his own home. He was asked by a white cop to provide ID.

Suppose the police officer saw a black man in ordinary street clothes going door-to-door in an all white neighbourhood, Would he presume that he was doing something wrong? Probably. However, the man may be looking for a friend he believe lives on the street but doesn’t know what house the man lives at. Would the officer be right in approaching him and asking him to explain why he was doing that? Yes he would. Would he be wrong in asking for ID? No. After all, the man may be a paroled parolee who was just released from prison for burglary and was checking to see if anyone was home so that he could break into the home while the homeowners are away. However, if the officer only stopped a black man from going door-to-door and asking for an explanation but at the same time, let a white man who was going door-to-door and leaving him alone, then the officer would be a racist.

While a rights tribunal does not purport to be a real court, both are in the business of fact-finding and the adjudication of rights and wrongs. There is an assertion that is similar to a Crown prosecutor arguing (and a judge accepting) that any police officer should be convicted of being a racist, if he believes that the officer is really a racist or acted in a manner that would lead an ordinary reasonable man to believe that the officer’s conduct was racist.

In my respectful opinion, the officer should have accepted the fact that when he saw a black man going door-to-door carrying a mailbag, and at the same time, wearing a postal uniform, that he was on the job of delivering mail. To think otherwise was ludicrous.

As to punishment, I think it should be light. He was not abusive and he did apologize to Mr. Phipps. I think the officer was stupid but we all do stupid things once in a while since we are all human. I think a reprimand alone would be appropriate. Hopefully he has learned something from this experience.

We must accept the fact that it is conceivable that racism can be inside all us of unconsciously and once in a while, it may suddenly reach the surface of our minds like an ugly wart reaches the surface of an area of otherwise pristine skin.

As to Lorne Gunter who over-reacted at the way the Tribunal’s decision was arrived at, my message is; If a pot is going to boil over, you don’t blame the manufacture of the stove the pot is sitting on and close the manufacturer down, you merely turn the burner off. That way, everything will be cool again.

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