How Toronto police officers ‘tortured’ South Asian suspects to extract confessions

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ONTARIO’S Court of Appeal Justice Robert Blair tore a strip off a Toronto police officer for the brutal tactics he and his fellow cop used on two suspects, noting in his ruling: “Canadian society cannot tolerate – and the courts cannot permit – police officers to beat suspects in order to obtain confessions.  Yet, sadly, that is precisely what happened in this case.  One of the two police officers who participated in the beatings apparently thought, as he said, that “it’s part of [his] job” to do so. It is not.”

In a footnote, the judge added: “Indeed, the conduct in this case might well be characterized as “torture” as that term is defined in s. 269.1(2) of the Criminal Code.”

Neil Singh’s convictions were stayed.

Singh was arrested along with Randy Maharaj after two or more assailants robbed Crane Supply of about $350,000 worth of copper piping in 2009.

Both men were charged with robbery and unlawful confinement.  Both alleged police brutality in relation to the statements obtained from them.  Maharaj suffered serious injuries, including a fractured rib.  Singh was less seriously injured. The Crown stayed the charges against Maharaj, but Singh’s trial proceeded and he was convicted on both counts.

The judge pointed out: “The appellant testified that he was beaten on three separate occasions over an extended period of time, prior to giving what turned out to be a generally exculpatory statement.  Three police officers were involved: Detective Constable Jamie Clark, Detective Steve Watts, and Detective Donald Belanger.  D.C. Clark was the principal administrator of the actual beatings, while Detective Watts appears to have been the police presence in the room; he did nothing to intervene and did his best otherwise to persuade the appellant to confess.

“Detective Belanger’s role was that of “good cop” in relation to the interrogation of the appellant, although he appears to have been active as an aggressor in the case of Maharaj, who also testified on the stay hearing.

“The evidence of the appellant and Maharaj with respect to the assaults was not contested.  None of the police officers testified and the Crown called no other evidence to counter that tendered on behalf of the appellant.  Nor does the Crown contest that evidence on appeal.  It therefore provides the factual framework for what actually happened.”

 

REGARDING the first assault on Singh, the ruling notes: “D.C Clark … struck the appellant on the back of the head five or six times and kneed him in the ribs once or twice, all the while telling the appellant he was lying about not knowing Maharaj. The attack lasted for up to two minutes, during which the appellant was pinned against the wall of the interrogation room.”

Regarding the second assault, the ruling says: “He grabbed the appellant’s neck, squeezing his throat and slamming his head against the wall.  He said to the appellant: “This is what it feels like when you wave guns in people’s faces.”  The squeezing was forceful enough that the appellant was unable to breathe and felt that he was about to black out, but D.C. Clark let go before he did.  The punching continued, however.  D.C. Clark hit the appellant forcefully on the back with his fist several times, and demanded that the appellant tell them what happened in the robbery.”

Regarding the third assault, the ruling states: “D.C. Clark then began to administer another prolonged beating, hitting the appellant forcefully on the back of the head and on his back many times – sometimes with an open fist, sometimes with a closed fist.  He testified he was in such pain at the time that he felt he could not go on and began to beg the officers just to kill him.”

The ruling also notes that Maharaj was also beaten: “D.C. Clark reacted violently again.  He grabbed Maharaj, pulled him out of his chair, and dragged him into an adjoining room – undoubtedly one without a video camera – where he pushed Maharaj to the ground, fell on top of him, and began punching him in the ribs for an extended period of time.  At the same time, Detective Belanger attempted to grab hold of Maharaj’s leg and step on his testicles.  D.C. Clark added an oral element to the intimidation and assault: he said, “[O]h, you don’t want to make a statement? You don’t want to make a statement? You’re going to make a statement.  We’ll make sure you make a statement … I hope you’re tougher than your buddy.”  As the trial judge noted, Maharaj screamed loudly enough that someone opened the door, and the beating stopped.”

 

THE judge noted: “Balancing all of the competing interests at play in contemplating a stay of proceedings – the seriousness of the offence and society’s interest in upholding a conviction, the integrity of the justice system, and the nature and gravity of the violation of the appellant’s rights – I am satisfied that a stay is warranted and should have been imposed.  The state misconduct was a flagrant breach of the appellant’s Charter-protected rights.  The prolonged and grave nature of the beatings, and the careful choreography underlying them, suggest a pattern of misconduct on the part of D.C. Clark and Detectives Watts and Belanger that has systemic implications.  That similar assaults were committed against the appellant’s co-accused reinforces this concern.”

The judge also noted: “What occurred here was not a momentary overreaction by a police officer caught up in the moment of a difficult interrogation.  What occurred here was the administration of a calculated, prolonged and skillfully choreographed investigative technique developed by these officers to secure evidence.  This technique involved the deliberate and repeated use of intimidation, threats and violence, coupled with what can only be described as a systematic breach of the constitutional rights of detained persons – including the denial of their rights to counsel.  It would be naïve to suppose that this type of egregious conduct, on the part of these officers, would be confined to an isolated incident.

“The courts must not condone such an approach to interrogation.  Real life in the police services is not a television drama.  What took place here sullies the reputations of the many good officers in our country, whose work is integral to the safety and security of our society.

“Nor does it appear that these officers have been called to account in any meaningful way, although the trial judge made it plain that, in her view, they should be.  We were told that an internal investigation was undertaken by the police but that it ceased when the victims, not surprisingly, were unwilling to cooperate.  Crown counsel was not able to advise of any charges, disciplinary measures, or other consequences flowing from the investigation.”

 

(Full ruling: http://www.ontariocourts.ca/decisions/2013/2013ONCA0750.htm)

 

– ASIAN JOURNAL REPORT