No doubt the names Michael Brown and Eric Garner ring a bell for people who follow current events. Both men were murdered by police in the United States, with grand juries declining to indict the officers responsible.
These displays of police impunity led to widespread protest throughout North America. Indeed, outrage north of the border led several thousand Torontonians to loudly demonstrate outside the U.S. consulate to denounce the Michael Brown verdict.
But what about Jermaine Carby?
Likely most Canadians have not heard of this young man’s untimely death, though his murder by Peel Regional Police parallels the better known case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The response to the deaths of local, unarmed black men such as Carby has not been comparable to the outrage and mobilization triggered by incidents south of the border. This needs to change now.
The death of Jermaine Carby
On the night of Sep. 24, Jermaine Carby was shot and killed by Peel police during a traffic stop in Brampton, Ontario. Carby was riding in a black Jetta that was pulled over near Queen and Kennedy. Within moments the officer had activated an emergency switch, calling for backup.
Eyewitnesses reported that Carby exited the car with his hands up, in what can only be assumed to be an attempt to show the police officers that he was unarmed and not a threat. As one eyewitness stated to CP24, “He had his hands up… saying ‘What?’ to the cops and he started walking towards them.” She added, “As I drove by, I didn’t get to look back but I just heard gunshots, like five gun shots.” It has also been reported that Carby’s lifeless body was handcuffed by police.
Richard Applebee, another eyewitness who spoke to CP24, heard police tell Carby to drop a knife but did not see a weapon in Carby’s hands. “He walked slowly towards them with both arms stretched,” Applebee remarked. “I was too far to see a knife. It might have been small.”
To date, the officer involved in the shooting has not been named, and information on the shooting has been scarce. Carby’s family and their legal counsel have asked for any evidence revealing that Carby was armed at the time of his death, as well as the identity of the driver of the vehicle and the driver’s current whereabouts, but these requests for information have been repeatedly denied.
In another parallel to the case of Michael Brown, instead of focusing on releasing information pertaining to the case, the media have released Jermaine Carby was posthumously subjected to a slew of negative information about Carby’s his past in an attempt to justify the actions of the officers.
But at the time of Carby’s interaction with the police, his identity was unknown; he died as a “John Doe” at the hospital. He was a young black man who was murdered by the Peel police.
Civilian oversight requires civilians
In Ontario, the Special Investigations Unit becomes active in incidents where the police are involved in the death of a civilian. Led by Paul Dempsey, the SIU was immediately called to the scene of Carby’s death.
Established in 1990 as an arm’s-length criminal investigative agency tasked with investigating alleged police misconduct in Ontario, the SIU is intended to be a civilian agency on paper, but in reality is staffed largely by former police officers and judges, who have proven to be incredibly reluctant to press charges in cases related to deaths, assaults and sexual assaults carried out by police. In 2010, the Toronto Star wrote that “Ontario's criminal justice system heavily favours police and gives officers breaks at every turn — from the SIU, which hardly ever charges officers, to prosecutors, juries and judges.”
André Marin, the Ontario ombudsman, released a report in 2011 titled Oversight Undermined, in which he called for reforms to the SIU. Marin noted “a number of serious problems affecting the SIU, including endemic delays and a lack of rigour in SIU investigations, a reluctance to insist on police co-operation, and an internal culture overly influenced by a preponderance of ex-police officers among its staff.” Further, “the SIU’s mandate still lacked clarity” and “transparency was also missing in action, as SIU reports and significant policy issues remained hidden from public view.”
“I am left with the impression that the Ministry does not want to consider any reforms that would prove too distasteful to the policing community,” stated Marin. “It is content to adopt partial solutions and ride out the media storms. The citizens of Ontario are the losers in all this. The Ministry’s stance frustrates the promise of strong and independent civilian police oversight, thereby undermining public trust in policing.”
Marin’s critique highlights the need for a truly civilian organization to oversee the police in order for justice to be served, as police will not indict themselves. Community organizations and members of impacted communities should all be able to serve on police oversight bodies, and decide whether an officer should be charged with criminal offences when they are involved in the killing, assault or sexual assault of civilians.
It’s happening here too
While Canadian outrage over recent incidents where U.S. police officers have executed unarmed black men is an important act of solidarity, we are ignoring what is happening right under our noses.
Perhaps this different response to police violence in our country is rooted in the misguided idea that multicultural Canada does not have a history of visceral racial tension and oppression like its neighbour does.
Dr. Ajamu Nangwaya, an organizer with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence, explains that “police violence in Canada is a fundamental feature of society wherein social oppression is present. Colonialism is a very violent process, and its continued manifestation as settler-colonialism is based on the need to use force and the prison industrial complex to maintain economic, social and political order.”
“It should not come as a surprise that the Indigenous peoples and Afrikans are the two groups in Canada who experience the highest levels of police violence and are the most imprisoned,” says Nangwaya.
Willful ignorance can no longer be an excuse for the systemic issues of police brutality, impunity and racial profiling in Canada. In the Greater Toronto Area alone, the list of predominantly black and brown people who have been killed by police runs far too long.
Junior Manon, Alwy al-Nadir, Reyal Jensen Jardine-Douglas, Eric Osawe, Michael Eligon, Sammy Yatim and Frank Anthony Berry are among those who have lost their lives in recent years due to police violence. A fact sheet on police violence, compiled by Nangwaya, can be accessed here.
Nangwaya argues that Canadians are losing trust in the police, and there is a need to keep educating the public about the systemic nature of police violence and “the police's principal function being that of serving and protecting the economic, social and political interests of the socially dominant groups or the ruling class in Canada.”
Christmas Eve vigil
Christmas Eve marked three months since Jermaine Carby was gunned down by the Peel Regional Police. At the corner where he was shot, a candlelight vigil was held by Carby’s family, the Justice for Jermaine Carby Committee and community members.
Despite the holiday and bad weather, roughly 60 people showed up in solidarity with Carby’s family and the other individuals who have been killed at the hands of the police in the Greater Toronto Area. After a moment of silence the group managed to shut down the major intersection of Queen and Kennedy in the heart of Brampton for nearly an hour. During this time a public education action took place. Carby’s cousin La Tanya Grant and Kabir Joshi-Vijayan addressed the public via a sound system, and flyers were handed out to pedestrians and those sitting in cars.
Several annoyed and impatient individuals were vocal in their opposition, while others asked for flyers in order to learn more about the case. Community members passing by joined in the blockade, expressing frustration about how they have been treated at the hands of the police.
While the action drew the attention of the Peel Regional Police and Toronto’s CP24, the demands of the family and committee were not given airtime. The media have tried to spin the issue into a tragic, isolated incident, instead of the most recent episode of systemic racial profiling and police brutality.
Until honest discussions about police brutality and race in Canada are held, change in the status quo of injustice on the streets, within the SIU and within the courts is unlikely.
Racism and police brutality exist. History has demonstrated that institutions like the SIU have undermined progress to bring justice for victims of police brutality, whether it is Jermaine Carby or the thousands who were detained during the G20. Community organizations such as the Justice for Jermaine Committee need your support.
Please consider supporting the Justice for Jermaine Carby Committee online or in person.