Test Cases

Test cases allow us to present historical and sociological information about anti-Black racism in Canada that is important for courts and tribunals in Ontario to consider as they make decisions about laws, policies, and practices.

Carding Class Action

Acting on behalf of Ayaan Farah, the Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC) and McCarthy Tétrault LLP have commenced a class action against the Toronto Police Service for the practice of “Carding”, which has disproportionately been used to harass and intimidate Black and Indigenous people. The action names as defendants the Toronto Police Services Board and former and current Chiefs of Police Bill Blair, Mark Saunders, James Ramer, and Myron Demkiw. The claim alleges that the Toronto Police Service’s historical and ongoing use of Carding breaches the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code, was negligent, and unlawfully intruded upon the seclusion of the Class members.

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Neptune Four

In November 2011, members of the Toronto Police Service assaulted, pulled a gun on, arrested, and charged four Black teens as they left their homes in Toronto Community Housing and headed to a neighbourhood mentorship program.

The youth filed complaints. In 2021, two police officers were found guilty of unlawful arrest and discreditable conduct. However, despite drawing a gun on the youth, they were not found to have used unreasonable force. 

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Frank Dorsey et al. v. Attorney General of Canada

There is a crisis of mass incarceration and anti-Black racism in the criminal justice system. One of the forms this takes is that Black prisoners serve longer sentences at higher levels of security without access to critical rehabilitative programming. The Appellants, Frank Dorsey, a Black man, and Ghassan Salah, are two prisoners who have been denied transfer to a lower security classification. These denials occurred after both Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Salah received approvals from their case management teams for such transfers. The transfers were then disapproved by Correctional Services Canada (CSC). Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Salah brought an application seeking to confirm the availability of habeas corpus to challenge an arbitrary or unreasonable denial of such a transfer.

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Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform et al. v. Attorney General of Canada

BLAC respects sex workers’ rights to autonomy, agency and dignity. In line with our mission to challenge and eradicate individual and systemic anti-Black racism and our vision of a society where the humanity and dignity of all Black people are centred, BLAC supports the calls for the full decriminalization of sex work and supports repealing the provisions enacted by the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) as they pertain to sex work done by adults. 

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Nell Toussaint V. Attorney General of Canada

 Nell Toussaint, lived and worked in Canada as an irregular migrant for almost a decade. She was in the process of seeking to regularize her status in Canada when she developed life-threatening health problems. She sought access to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) but was denied because of her immigration status. She challenged this as a violation of her rights to life and security of the person under section 7 of the Charter and her right to equality under section 15.

The Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal agreed that her life and long term health had been put at risk but held that the violation of the right to life was justified as a means to promote compliance with immigration law. Toussaint filed a petition to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) alleging violations of the right to life in article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the right to non-discrimination under article 26. On August 7, 2018 the UNHRC found that Canada had violated Toussaint’s right to life and non-discrimination and that the government must take necessary measures to ensure that no one is denied access to essential health care because of their immigration status. Canada responded to the Committee’s decision on January 29, 2019, stating that it did not agree with the UNHRC’s interpretation of Canada’s obligations under the ICCPR and would not be implementing the required remedy. Toussaint filed a claim in Ontario Superior Court alleging that Canada’s violation of the Charter must now be interpreted in light of the UNHRC Decision. Canada has brought a motion to strike the claim without an evidentiary hearing.

On January 14, 2022, BLAC – together with South Asian Legal Clinic Ontario (SALCO), Chinese Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, and the Colour of Poverty-Colour of Care – was granted intervenor status. The coalition will argue:

  • Vulnerable and marginalized groups will be impacted by the outcome of this case
  • The court must consider the existence and impact of systemic discrimination and systemic barriers when determining whether to dismiss a novel claim without hearing it on its merits
  • The Supreme Court has recognized that customary international law norms form part of the Canadian common law. The court must consider the effect of systemic discrimination and systemic barriers when interpreting such customary international law norms in the context of a party’s rights under the Charter

The motion to strike hearing date took place on June 13, 2022. To read news coverage about the results of the hearing date, click here.

Abdurahman Hassan

On June 11, 2015, Abdurahman Hassan, a 39-year-old Somali man living with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, died after police officers restrained him. Mr. Hassan had been in custody at the Central East Correctional Centre for three years awaiting deportation. After suffering a seizure while in segregation, he was transferred to Peterborough Regional Health Centre. In the early morning hours of June 11, 2015, while in the hospital, two police officers (one OPP, one Peterborough Police Service) and nurses entered Mr. Hassan’s room. He was in crisis, ingesting his own hair and feces. Mr. Hassan was held down, his mouth covered with a towel and his head was held against the bed. He died.

The province announced that it was ordering a Coroner’s Inquest into Mr. Hassan’s death, which BLAC participated in.

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Sanctuary Ministries

In March 2020, governments and public health experts began telling people to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by staying home. For those members of the Black community that are homeless, “home” is a homeless shelter.

BLAC helped file a lawsuit against the City of Toronto for operating its shelter system without enough protections against COVID-19 — Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto et al. v. City of Toronto. BLAC, together with a number of other community organizations, argued that the City was operating the shelter system in a way that violated the right to equality and to life and security of the person under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and was inconsistent with Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

In May 2020, the City agreed to enforce physical distancing standards across the shelter system.

R. v. Morris

Mr. Morris was convicted of various firearm offences. In July 2018, Ontario Superior Court Justice Shaun Nakatsuru sentenced him to a 12-month jail sentence, reduced from 15 months after consideration of Charter breaches. Among other factors, Justice Nakatsuru took into account Mr. Morris’ background and the impact anti-Black racism had in his life, informed by the reports from leading experts on anti-Black racism in Canada. The Crown appealed the sentence and submitted, among other things, that the sentencing judge erred in his treatment of social context evidence of racism.

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