TORONTO – A Toronto lawyer who says he felt humiliated when a security guard denied him entry to the headquarters of Ontario’s law society has settled the racial profiling complaint he made to the province’s human rights tribunal.
The settlement, announced Tuesday, cites confusion over entry protocols as contributing to the situation Selwyn Pieters faced in July last year.
“The law society appreciates that Mr. Pieters has brought this issue to light,” the two sides said in a joint statement. “It has become apparent that a lack of information about entrance procedures at the law society’s premises, as well as the role that licensee identification cards play in those procedures, were at the root cause of the conflict between the parties.”
In his complaint, Pieters, who is black, said he and a black student were visiting the headquarters of the professional regulator at Osgoode Hall when a security guard demanded to see his law society identity card. White people, both before and after the incident, Pieters said, were buzzed in without scrutiny. When his ID card turned out to be expired, the guard refused them entry, although a database check would have confirmed his lawyer status, he complained.
“The security guard relied on stereotypes about race, colour, creed and ethnicity to single out me and my student out for greater scrutiny or different treatment,” Pieters said at the time. “In effect, I was racially profiled. As well, my student was racially profiled.”
The lawyer had wanted the human rights tribunal to order the Law Society of Upper Canada to implement training focused on anti-black racism for security guards, lawyers and others. He also wanted $75,000 in damages.
The law society had denied racial profiling occurred and maintained the security guard had followed proper protocols.
In deciding to settle the dispute “amicably,” the society said it would communicate its entry procedures to lawyers and paralegals.
The settlement comes as the profession in Ontario grapples with questions of diversity and racism. Black and other racialized lawyers have complained about exclusion, barriers and stereotypes they face in their daily professional lives.
“The law society has never been more committed to addressing these issues than it is today,” the statement said. “(It) respects Mr. Pieters’ efforts to bring public attention to the issues of anti-black racism and racial profiling.”
While the problems are longstanding, the society said it was committed to bringing about positive change.
The two sides said they would not comment further on the complaint or settlement.
Pieters, who has long championed issues of racism and profiling, won a similar case four years ago.
In that instance, Ontario’s top court upheld a tribunal finding of racial discrimination after he and two other black people with him were asked for ID in the lawyers’ lounge of a courthouse in Brampton, Ont. Non-blacks present were not asked for the document.