By Lincoln DePradine
Reece Maxwell-Crawford, a young Black man who has filed a lawsuit for an alleged assault on him by TTC fare inspectors, says he feels “a little bit of a vindication’’ by a report on the incident by Susan Opler, ombudsman for the City of Toronto.
The incident, in February 2018, occurred on a streetcar platform near St Clair Avenue West and Bathurst Street and was captured on cellphone videos.
The TTC, after an internal investigation, released a report last July, saying it found insufficient evidence of any misconduct, with one exception. The commission took issue with one of the inspectors that had smiled at Maxwell-Crawford during a particularly tense verbal interaction.
However, the ombudsman has pointed to flaws in the TTC’s probe, saying it was not “adequately fair, thorough or transparent’’.
“The investigation did not adequately probe what happened during the incident and why,’’ Opler said in a statement last week.
Opler said her investigation uncovered several “problems’’ with the TTC’s investigation, including “no analysis of evidence that might have suggested unconscious racial bias’’ by the fare inspectors, two of whom still work for the commission.
“The first fare inspector, as well as an independent witness, said that they felt uncomfortable because this young man had his hands in his pockets and might have a weapon. In fact, he does not have his hands in his pockets at any point on the video,” Opler said.
Maxwell-Crawford, who was 19 at the time of the incident, injured his back and shoulder in the altercation and also suffered a concussion. He has filed a lawsuit against the TTC.
According to him, he was minding his “own business’’ when he was confronted on the streetcar platform by the fare inspectors.
“The attack really just came out of the blue,’’ he said Monday in a CBC radio interview. “It just happened so quickly.’’
The lawsuit claims that TTC, through fare inspectors, is participating in racial profiling.
Cory Wanless, an attorney for Maxwell-Crawford, told the CBC radio host there was no justification for what happened to his client.
The TTC’s argument – that is “based on their perception’’ – is “flatly contradicted by the video’’, Wanless said.
“The TTC justified an assault on Reese,’’ the lawyer said, “on the basis of their perception that he was a threat, even though their perception turned out to be totally wrong. The TTC looked at that and said that’s fine.’’
Maxwell-Crawford, recalling the 2018 incident, said that after stepping off the streetcar wearing headphones and a hood, he was “shoved really hard’’ from behind and later pinned to the ground.
“I didn’t know who had pushed me,’’ he said. “I just lost it and fought back.’’
In the videos, Maxwell-Crawford is seen lying facedown and can be heard screaming, “you’re hurting me. I’m in pain’’.
The Black teen was forcibly detained until police arrived. He was taken away in handcuffs but later released without charges.
The three TTC fare inspectors and two Toronto cops are named in Maxwell-Crawford’s lawsuit. He’s seeking $750,000 in damages.
Wanless said there was no reason for the TTC officers to confront Maxwell-Crawford. “To us, the only possible explanation is racial profiling and implicit bias on the part of those TTC fare inspectors. And, the fact that the TTC then did an investigation and exonerated them, suggests that there is a broader issue within the TTC,’’ said Wanless.
In the aftermath of the incident, Maxwell-Crawford said he was forced to take timeoff from school and work, and has been struggling with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
“It’s still something I’m having difficulty with,’’ he said, adding that he tries to avoid using the TTC to commute.