Content warning: This article discusses police violence and anti-Black racism.
On June 13, 2022, a lawyer representing U of T student Hasani O’Gilvie and his mother, Christine O’Gilvie, filed a case against three Toronto police officers and the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB). Hasani and his family are suing the Toronto police officers for racial profiling under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The O’Gilvies allege that, despite Hasani identifying himself to confirm he was not the person that the officers were looking for, the officers pinned him down, pressed a knee into his neck, and repeatedly tasered him. The suit claims that the officers racially profiled Hasani, who is Black, and demands that the officers and the TPSB as a whole pay $2.7 million related to 10 different claims, to compensate the O’Gilvies for physical, emotional, and economic damages.
According to the statement of claim, a legal document laying out the O’Gilvies’ case, Hasani was at a plaza in North York on August 12, 2021, with the intention of taking a bus to the St. George campus. He noticed a Toronto police services car tailing him. After the officer, Sergeant Rachel Saliba, got out of the car and began to question him, O’Gilvie told the sergeant his name. However, Saliba indicated that she didn’t believe him and drew her taser.
The statement of claim further alleges that, a few seconds later, Constable Jilliane Baquiran arrived, and the two officers tried to arrest Hasani and bring him to the ground. Although Hasani kept his hands up and told the officers he hadn’t done anything, “the takedown became more violent.” A third officer, Constable Seth Rietkoetter, arrived and immediately tackled Hasani, pressing his knee and leg into Hasani’s neck. In a 2020 statement, former Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders stated that TPS members do not use or train in using knee-to-neck restraints.
Police tribunal documents reveal that Rietkoetter tasered Hasani five times as he lay on the ground, while the other officers applied restraints. After they had restrained Hasani, the officers “unlawfully searched” Hasani’s bag and found his ID, which verified that the officers had detained the wrong person. They released Hasani, and he fled.
Hasani is a 27-year-old student who works at his family’s restaurant. In a press conference, his mother described him as an “introvert” and highlighted his love for nature and artistic endeavours.
Hasani is not the first to sue Toronto police officers for racial profiling under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 2017, a court ruled in favour of Mutaz Elmardy, a Black man who sued the TPSB and a Toronto Police Services officer for racial profiling. The justices awarded Elmardy $80,000, which is believed to be the highest amount in civil damages ever awarded in an Ontario racial profiling case at the time.
The O’Gilvies’ suit implicates the TPSB, stating that the board is “vicariously liable” for the officer’s actions. The O’Gilvies believe that the TPSB failed to adequately train the officers, knew or ought to have known that the officers suffered from “psychological and/or psychiatric problems rendering them unfit to carry out their duties,” and did not take immediate action to investigate the officers’ actions.
According to the statement of claim, Hasani experiences chronic pain, weakness, and a reduced range of motion as a result of the attack. These physical effects interfere with his daily activities and will continue to compromise his abilities “for the remainder of his life.”
In a news conference, Christine O’Gilvie, who is also a public school teacher in the Toronto area, stressed the emotional damage sustained by her son. “He still hasn’t recovered,” she said. The statement of claim states that the officers inflicted “severe emotional, psychological and/or mental trauma,” causing anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and flashbacks. Hasani has recently returned to online learning after being forced to stop school for a year and a half. He continues to require medical treatment.
The statement of claim seeks compensation for these ongoing costs, as well as additional compensation for violations of Hasani’s rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. According to the statement, the officers racially profiled Hasani and didn’t tell Hasani why they had tried to arrest him.
All three officers remain employed by the TPSB.
Responses from the TPSB and the community
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the TPSB indicated that they could not comment on the case because the allegations remain unproven in court. The Toronto Police Association (TPA) told reporters that it will ensure that the officers charged in the case receive fair treatment, and claimed that “[its] members are subject to more levels of oversight than any other profession.” The TPA is a non-profit organization that advocates for Toronto police officers in a number of capacities, including in negotiations with the TPSB.
Currently, the officers are under investigation by the TPSB Disciplinary Tribunal, which passes judgment on “allegations of serious breaches of the Code of Conduct.” According to CBC News, tribunal documents identified the three officers’ conduct as “unreasonable” and “unlawful” and stated that pressing a knee into Hasani’s neck was “excessive and unnecessary.”
On January 16, Hasani’s parents and lawyer hosted a press conference discussing the case. “I am trying to ensure that the experiences endured by my son spares one other young man of colour from being treated as such,” said Christine O’Gilvie. “All of this would have been worthwhile if I can prevent one mother from feeling that absolute sense of horror, loss, disbelief, and dismay that I felt when I received that call from my son on August 12.” Hasani did not appear at the conference — according to his lawyer, he decided to remain out of the public eye and focus on healing.
During the conference, the O’Gilvies’ lawyer said that they’d requested access to body camera footage capturing the incident, and they alleged that the evidence is “being buried by the Toronto Police Service.” A spokesperson for the TPSB told CBC News that it won’t release the video because it is relevant to an ongoing proceeding before the tribunal.
At the conference, Christine told reporters that Mayor Tory’s January 3 announcement proposing a $48.3 million increase to the TPS’s budget came as a “slap in the face.” The budget increase was announced after the Toronto Police service released data in June 2022 demonstrating that Toronto police disproportionately use force against Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour.
The budget increase also received blowback from activists. In a statement to CTV News, UTM Professor Beverly Bain said, “We already know that police don’t protect racialized people. “So why is the narrative that more police would mean safer communities? The question becomes: safer for whom?” Bain is also a member of the No Pride in Policing Coalition.
Meanwhile, the organization Another Toronto is hosting actions throughout the month of January to protest the proposed budget increase.
The O’Gilvies’ hearing is scheduled for February 2024.