Justice Copeland ruled “I find that the impact of the breach on the defendant’s Charter-protected interests was significant, and weighs in favour of exclusion of the evidence”.
A Mississauga man has been found not guilty of driving with excess blood alcohol because a judge found police violated his rights by withholding his turban for more than three hours after his arrest.
Not only did the officers involved not comply with Peel Regional Police’s own policy on individuals wearing turbans in custody, but one officer wasn’t even aware of it, wrote Ontario Court Justice Jill Copeland in a decision released this week.
Sardul Singh, an observant Sikh, was arrested following a RIDE spot check in December 2014. As he was being placed in the back of a police cruiser, his turban accidentally fell off.
But it was not returned to him for several hours, including while he was giving breath samples at the Brampton police division, leaving him feeling vulnerable, the judge wrote.
Copeland threw out the breath samples and dismissed the case, finding Singh’s right to freedom of religion had been infringed.
“There is no dispute that all of the officers involved in the detention of Mr. Singh were aware of the religious significance of his turban,” she wrote.
“Based on the evidence before the court, I find that the officers involved in Mr. Singh’s arrest and detention acted in a careless manner in relation to Mr. Singh’s right to freedom of religion in relation to the turban . . .I find Mr. Singh not guilty. The charge is dismissed.”
A Peel police spokesman said the force is aware of the incident and will be reviewing Copeland’s decision and investigating the conduct of the involved officers. Sgt. Josh Colley said officers are responsible for reviewing all directives and updates annually.
“This was a case where a message had to be sent that care has to taken with respect to religious rights,” said Singh’s lawyer, David Locke.
Copeland’s ruling comes just weeks after the Peel police services board called for an independent audit of the force’s diversity and equity practices.
The move followed a deputation at a June board meeting by Ranjit Khatkur, chair of the Peel Coalition Against Racialized Discrimination, who said Peel police must acknowledge racism and criticized Chief Jennifer Evans, saying she failed to properly address complaints about inequity.
“So what do we need to do to step this up so that we actually have faith in the police? And this is where, in the end, it comes down very simply to how seriously they take this,” Khatkur told the Star after reading Copeland’s decision.
“If we’re going to preserve the public confidence, then they need to take diversity seriously and the consequences of not taking it seriously become a lack of faith in the police force, in the chief, and in the implementation of their policies.”
The region is home to a diverse population, including a large Sikh community.
Peel Regional Police’s policy states that when a Sikh wearing a turban is in custody, the turban should only be removed for the purposes of a search and then returned, or if there are safety concerns, Copeland wrote, noting there was no search or safety concerns in Singh’s case.
“In terms of the Peel Regional Police service as a whole, it is commendable that the service has created a policy to proactively address this issue,” she wrote.
“Unfortunately, in this case there was a significant problem with implementation of the policy by the officers involved, and with knowledge of the policy on the part of at least one officer.”
It was the understanding of the breathalyzer technician at the police division that individuals under arrest were not allowed to wear turbans while in custody, the judge found.
While Singh never inquired about his turban while detained, Copeland said he should never have been put in the position of having to ask in the first place.
Serious consequences such as dismissing a criminal case is sometimes the only way to change improper police conduct, said lawyer Daniel Brown, who was not involved in Singh’s case.
“This particular judge recognized that it wasn’t just a single isolated officer who didn’t respect the policy, but that it seemed to be more of a systemic problem if all the officers involved either weren’t aware of the policy or didn’t adhere to it,” he said.
“Where systemic problems arise, it makes the constitutional violations more serious.”