The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal said last week that police collected DNA samples from 96 seasonal labourers in Bayham, Ont., in their investigation of a 2013 sexual assault, even though many “did not match even a generous description” of the suspect, aside from the fact they were all Black or brown migrant farm workers.
In its ruling, the tribunal’s adjudicator, Marla Burstyn, found the police officers’ conduct was discriminatory on the basis of “race, colour and place of origin,” contravening the Human Rights Code.
Ontario Provincial Police said they are reviewing the decision.
The case related to the police investigation conducted after a woman who lived alone near several farms reported being violently sexually assaulted in her home.
She described the suspect as a male migrant worker who was Black and had a heavy accent, possibly Jamaican, the tribunal decision said. The suspect was also described as in his mid-to-late 20s, between five feet 10 inches and six feet tall, and muscular.
Officers, however, collected DNA samples from Black and brown migrant workers of different heights, builds and ages, the document said. Among them was a man who was five feet two inches tall, 40 years old and described as East Indian, Burstyn wrote.
The Tribunal found that the police’s conduct during the DNA sweep was contrary to the Ontario’s Human Rights Code, and that it violated the right of Leon Logan, a farm worker from Jamaica to be free from discrimination by improperly targeting him on the basis of his race, skin colour, and place of origin.
Damages in the amount of $7,500 were ordered for Logan, the lead applicant in the discrimination case.
A news release, issued by Justice for Migrant Workers, an advocacy group for human rights of farm workers, said the parties have reached an agreement to provide the other 53 applicants the same award, which would amount to $405,000 in total
Shane Martínez, the lawyer representing the workers, said the decision is the first of its kind in Canada to analyze a human rights violation in the context of a DNA sweep, and the first to examine interactions between migrant farm workers and police through a human rights lens.
“Racialized people in those communities are really at the bottom socioeconomic rung of society,” Martínez said.
“They’re among the most abused and exploited individuals in Canadian society,” he added.