Black University of Toronto student sues police over alleged assault, detention
Hasani O'Gilvie and his family are seeking more than $1 million in damages.
Author of the article:Canadian Press
Published Jan 16, 2023 • 3 minute read
A young Black man is suing Toronto police, alleging three officers tackled him, pressed a knee to his neck and repeatedly shot him with a stun gun, even as he pleaded he had done nothing wrong.
The case, his family said Monday, highlights the disproportionate use of force levelled against Black people and ongoing racial profiling by Toronto’s police force.
“My son experienced severe emotional and physical trauma…every day is a healing for him,” his mother Christine O’Gilvie said at a news conference.
“Whether we like it or not, he is symbolic of the experiences endured by many young Black males in North America.”
A statement of claim filed in the Superior Court of Justice alleges 27-year-old Hasani O’Gilvie was assaulted by three Toronto police officers near a North York grocery store on his way to class at the University of Toronto in August 2021.
“This is a case of someone being assaulted for walking while Black,” his lawyer David Shellnutt said. “He looked like somebody who police allege they were looking for.”
O’Gilvie and his mother are seeking for $2.4 million in damages as well as $250,000 under the Family Law Act, according to the statement of claim.
The lawyer said the family decided to pursue the lawsuit after their calls for police accountability were met with silence.
Toronto police said they would not comment as the matter is before the courts, and the Toronto Police Association — which represents civilian and uniform members — says the officers are not commenting as the case is also before a review tribunal.
“In many cases, enforcement actions are met with resistance; not everyone wants to be arrested,” said Toronto Police Association president Jon Reid in a statement. “As these members face charges under the Police Services Act, the Association will ensure they are treated fairly throughout this process.”
According to the claim against the three officers, which was filed in June and has yet to be tested in court, O’Gilvie gave his name to an officer who stopped him for questioning after following him down a walkway near the grocery store. The claim alleges the officer did not believe him and drew a stun gun shortly before two other officers arrived.
O’Gilvie put his hands up and complied but the officers allegedly tackled him to the ground, the claim says. One officer then allegedly put his knee on his neck and repeatedly shot him with a stun gun while O’Gilvie “was subdued, not resisting, on the ground, and restraints being applied,” the claim alleges.
The claim alleges O’Gilvie was only released after the officers searched his bag and found identification proving what he told police.
“Regardless of mistaken identity of who they were looking for, that this matter ended up with a young U of T student with a knee on his neck, the same manoeuvre that killed George Floyd just a year prior, and being repeatedly stunned by the same officer who was doing that is unacceptable,” Shellnutt said.
The Special Investigation Unit, which launches a probe whenever police conduct may have resulted in death, serious injury, sexual assault or the discharge of a firearm, said it is not investigating O’Gilvie’s case.
“Generally speaking, the SIU does not investigate CEW (Conducted Energy Weapon) discharges unless there is a serious injury or death,” the unit said in a statement.
Shellnutt said body camera footage of the incident exists and claimed it was being withheld by police. Toronto police did not immediately respond to a request for comment about that claim.
O’Gilvie, who only returned to school last week, was not in a condition to speak at the news conference Monday, his family said.
The claim states he continues to suffer severe emotional and psychological trauma from the alleged assault, which left him with facial scarring and injuries to his upper body.
Hasani came to Canada at eight years old when the family emigrated from Jamaica, his mother said. She described her son as a calm, law-abiding young man who enjoys nature and art.
“His teachers would always tell that Hasani was a quiet man, and always followed instructions,” she said.
Kenneth O’Gilvie, Hasani’s father, said his son fears the police following the incident, and trying to avoid getting close to them on the streets.
“The trust that he usually has in the police, he lost it. He doesn’t think that they are there really to protect him,” he said.
The claim alleges O'Gilvie was released after the officers searched his bag and found identification proving what he told police.