On March 31st, a black 17-year-old boy, whose name has been withheld due to being a minor, was wrongfully arrested by Peel region police officers in Toronto, Ontario.
The officers were investigating a 21-year-old black man wanted in connection to a murder from July of 2020 and the kidnapping of a 23-year-old woman in Brampton, Ontario the previous week. According to the officers, they received a tip the previous Wednesday pertaining to the location of the suspect, indicating that he had been seen driving around the area of Don Mills Road and Finch Avenue.
In an interview with CityNews Toronto, the boy’s godfather, David Bosveld, says that the teenage boy had been driving in a car that was rented by a friend in the same area and on his way to a McDonalds. The boy’s car was rammed and boxed in by unmarked police cars. Police officers then ran up to the car and proceeded to smash the windows open and throw stun grenades in the car, all of which was filmed by a nearby bystander. Police then threw the boy to the ground, pressed his face against the ground, and handcuffed him.
Even after the police realized that the boy was not the suspect they were looking for, they still arrested him due to an apparent court order violation, where he was ordered not to drive after he had been caught driving underage some time before.
Peel police released a statement after the incident, stating, “We regret this mistake and the distress this has caused this young man and his family. Peel Police made initial contact with the family on that day. We have since made contact with a family representative to further discussions and offer our support.” They went on to say that they do not negate that the boy had a traumatic experience, but also defended their actions by saying, “Our job is to keep the community safe. Operating on the belief the individual in the car was the suspect Mr. Garwood, we had a duty to act.”
There are several alarming issues surrounding this incident. Firstly, the police said that they were only acting in good faith and on credible information. The details of the alleged tip they received has not been released, but it is unclear if the police were given a license plate number or a description of the vehicle the suspect was allegedly seen in. Should that be the case, however, this would mean that Peel police blindly acted on a tip and did not identify the individual, and instead violently arrested an innocent person with no credible cause. The family of the boy have also said that the boy has no resemblance to the suspect as well.
Secondly, the apparent disregard for the boy and his family in the situation is extremely concerning. In their statement, Peel police say that the operation was executed with no serious injuries to the boy or the officers, however the boy did sustain injuries to his face. While not life threatening, the boy was publicly and wrongfully arrested and humiliated.
Police have since said that an investigation into the incident will be launched; however, it is not clear if any of the officers involved have been suspended, terminated, or penalized in any way.
Police officers take an oath to protect and serve when they join the force, but we see many cases similar to this where citizens are not truly being protected and served justice. Looking beyond the trauma that this young boy has endured because of this incident, the real suspect is still free, now potentially being tipped off and avoiding that area, now that he may have been spotted. This means that there is an even longer wait for justice for the victims involved.
While much of the conversation concerning police brutality is currently focused in the United States, stories like this one remind us that abuse and irresponsible use of power is universal and how it all must continue to be addressed.