Police review of Kitchener arrest reflects ‘incomplete assessment’: defence lawyer

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Two external reviews deemed the actions of police as "appropriate." ( ACB Network of Waterloo Region/Twitter)

The criminal defence lawyer representing a man arrested in Waterloo region last summer says the outcome of two external investigations into the incident is based on an “incomplete assessment.”

On July 5, 2020, the Kitchener man, who is Somali-Canadian, was stopped by police for allegedly driving without his headlights on. The incident quickly escalated after the man followed officers to a nearby parking lot in Kitchener, where police thought they heard him fire a gun.

Police eventually arrested the man who was struck, dragged from his vehicle and pulled to the ground, his lawyer said. Police found no firearm and it’s believed the sound came from a firework, a report of the findings said. The incident was captured on video that surfaced online.

The report released this week found the method of the search was “lawful and appropriate,” and that officers acted appropriately.

Stephanie Krug, the man’s lawyer, said the report did not consider her client’s experiences from that night and that its credibility was undermined by the appearance of bias.

Missing points

The external probes were done by a former Calgary police inspector who runs a business that focuses on personal safety and risk management training for law enforcement and the Peel Regional Police Service.

“I think the credibility of the report is undermined when there’s an appearance of bias and there is an appearance of bias when officers are reviewing the conduct of other officers,” said Krug.

“There ought to be some mechanism in situations like this where there can be some independent mediator who worked with both the accused and the police agency after the prosecution is completed in court to try and sort out what happened,” she said.

Krug said the report failed to include a statement from her client that offered his point of view.

“I would have hoped that the investigation would have looked at the lawfulness of my client’s detention that night,” she said, noting that her client maintains his headlights were in fact on and that the initial stop was unwarranted. She said the report did not go into detail about her client’s injuries.

As for the conclusion that officers acted appropriately, Krug said she has a “very difficult time accepting that.”

“Largely because I’ve seen the video. If one were to watch the video, I think it would really cause a person to shutter at the amount of force that was used with my client.”

Commitment to community

Waterloo Regional Police Services Chief Bryan Larkin said the arrest didn’t meet the threshold for an investigation by Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, which is an arm’s length agency that investigates incidents involving police that involve allegations of serious injury, among other factors.

In this case, it was determined the man involved, who went to hospital for an assessment, did not meet that criteria.

However, Larkin said it was important for the service to move forward with external investigations.

“There was nothing within legislation that required the police service and/or the board and/or myself to conduct any reviews. But I felt we must capitalize and recognize that some of the incidents that impact our community where there’s calls for action and calls for change around policing, we must actually look at opportunities for growth and change and learning,” he said in a police services board meeting Wednesday.

Larkin said Peel Regional Police is one of the largest municipal services in Ontario that had capacity to support the investigation. As well, the service wanted to go beyond provincial borders “to show independence and no connection,” and therefore sought out the former Calgary police inspector.

Larkin said police are committed to working with the impacted community toward healing. He says the service has had multiple meetings with elder members of the Somali community in the region.

The report outlines “lessons learned” and “commitments” by the service, which include a review of the training curriculum and internal reporting mechanisms.

On a separate note, Larkin said the service is also looking at summer employment opportunities for marginalized community members. The initiative is meant to help with recruiting and diversifying the service.

‘System isn’t working for any Black communities’

Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo, who is also an NDP anti-racism critic, released a statement about the report, describing the findings as “just as disturbing as the incident itself.”

“The conclusion of the reports that this incident was ‘reasonable, appropriate and lawful’ do not come as a shock to the Black community members. We have been here before. Police investigating police does nothing to rebuild trust with law enforcement and with these inadequate investigations,” Lindo’s release said.

“While the findings in these reports are just as disturbing as the incident itself, what reports like these continue to show is that we need to dismantle systemic anti-Black racism in policing and all of our institutions,” Lindo said.

She said investigations must be fully independent with representatives from the Black community and investigators must undergo anti-bias and cultural competency training.

Larkin said the report does not suggest race may have played a role in the outcome of the arrest.

Meanwhile, Krug said her client is considering seeking a civil lawyer.

“I think his level of trust and confidence in police in our community has really withered,” Krug said.