‘Justice is still an illusion’: GTA lawyers, activists react to Chauvin verdict

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WATCH: Black activists and lawyers in the Greater Toronto Area say the verdict handed down in the Derek Chauvin trial Tuesday was a relief, and a starting point for changes still needed in Canada – Apr 21, 2021

News of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin being convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd is evoking reaction north of the border.

In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), a number of Black activists and lawyers shared their perspectives on the case and how it impacts the Canadian justice system.

On Tuesday, a jury found 45-year-old Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd. The incident, which happened during an arrest last year, was captured on a nine and a half minute-long video, and showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck. The killing sparked international civil unrest and called into question tactics, in addition to over-policing and excessive force used on racialized individuals.

Read more: Ex-cop Derek Chauvin found guilty of murder, manslaughter in death of George Floyd

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Former Whitby MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes says following the announcement of the verdict “there was a sense of relief. There was such a mixed bag of emotions that I didn’t know what to say except this was a moment.”

“Justice is still an illusion for many Black and Indigenous communities because justice is served to the victim and more often than not, the victim is not there to receive it.”

GTA criminal lawyer Latoya Graham says while the outcome of the case would not set legal precedent for similar cases in Canada, it’s possible there could be meaningful implications through social precedent on the country’s justice system.

“It can continue discussions about over-policing, standard of care, duty of care, even accountability,” Graham said.

Read more: Derek Chauvin trial: Jury reaches verdict over death of George Floyd

“Legal actors, i.e., Crown counsel, defence counsel, judges, we’re all social beings. Social conversations will affect social beings, and social beings act within the legal arena.”

Graham says while cell phone video presented in the Chauvin trial aided in the prosecution’s argument, it was police testimony that put the prosecution’s case over the top. Nevertheless, she still encourages individuals to record their encounters with police, as long as it does not obstruct officers from doing their jobs.

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“Video taping can provide up-to-date, live aspects of what is going with regards to the particular person and the police,” she said.

“I do say as a caveat, individuals must be aware of the right of police to police. You can’t obstruct police officers from actually doing their job.”

Cristal Hines of Durham Region’s Black Accountability Coalition (DBAC) says although Tuesday’s outcome is significant, there are still numerous victims of police brutality who have not been able to obtain similar recognition and outcomes in court.

Read more: Toronto officers involved in death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet won’t face charges: Ontario’s police watchdog

“The first names that came to mind were Breonna Taylor and Regis Korchinski-Pacquet and recognizing the miscarriage of justice that was in those cases.”

“It is not to dismiss the celebration and victory that this is — the sense of relief it is for the Black community — but it is to recognize that there’s a contention happening.

“There’s a celebration, a victory, but there’s still a lot of pain in the miscarriage of justice for those families.”

The region of Durham has seen a number of police altercations involving racialized individuals that have sparked community outrage in recent years. Last June, suspended Toronto police officer Michael Theriault was found guilty of assault in the beating of young Black man Dafonte Miller in Whitby. Miller lost his eye as a result of the 2016 attack.

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Other incidents that have been called into question by community members include a 2019 altercation where video captured two police officers punching a Black teenager, and a racist photo posted to a Facebook group with retired Durham police officers.

Following the news of the Chauvin verdict, the Durham Regional Police Service tweeted, “While the verdict after the tragic killing of George Floyd is a welcome step in the right direction in the fight against anti-Black racism, it is only the beginning. May he rest in peace & may his name continue to stir conversations & represent a turning point of accountability.”

Watch: Durham creates new division to address racial inequity

Shailene Panylo, who is also a member of DBAC says “it says nothing when our region and when our police service tout nice tweets or put out nice statements celebrating a verdict in another country when they cannot then take that and apply it to their own actions.”

In March, the Durham Regional Police Association announced they had reached a settlement to increase officers’ pay by 10 per cent over the next five years. The news was unsettling to DBAC, who, following George Floyd’s death and civil unrest in the U.S. in 2020, had called for the region to defund DRPS and allocate funds towards community and mental health resources.

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“Simply put, it’s infuriating. We continue to be fed nice diversity, inclusion statements that don’t save lives,” Panylo said.

“It doesn’t help that we still prop up police as our one and only solution to conflict, emergency, need, trauma, mental health in this community.”

Read more: Thousands sign petition as Durham activists aim to dismantle anti-Black racism in policing

When asked what actions the region was taking to rebuild trust with the community, regional chair John Henry said the region created a new division to address equity, diversity and inclusion.

“If you’re going to walk the walk, you need to fund it,” Henry said.

“It’s key that council realized that we needed to make a change, that we created a department prior to the budget and we’re funding it so that we can deal with systemic racism.”

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