Black lawyer denied entry to law society building claims racial profiling
Lawyer Selwyn Pieters is seen in Toronto in a June 13, 2013, file photo. (Colin Perkel / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, September 9, 2016 11:12PM EDT
TORONTO -- A prominent black lawyer who says he felt humiliated when a security guard denied him entry to the law society's headquarters has made a racial profiling complaint to the human rights tribunal.
Among other things, Selwyn Pieters is asking the 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 wants $75,000 in damages.
In his unproven complaint, the Toronto lawyer says he and a black student were visiting the headquarters in July when a security guard demanded to see his law society identity card, while white people both before and after the incident were buzzed in without scrutiny.
When his ID card turned out to be expired, the guard refused to allow them entry, despite protocol that calls for a database check that would have confirmed his lawyer status, Pieters said in an interview Friday.
"The attitude was I could not be a lawyer. What the guard did to me was quite shocking. I'm very upset about it," Pieters said. "It's based on the fact that I'm black and I believe based on the fact that I have dreadlocks."
Surveillance video of what took place, he said, would help support his case.
Pieters argues in his complaint that the treatment he received "fosters and perpetrates the social and professional exclusion" of black lawyers.
"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," he states. "In effect, I was racially profiled. As well, my student was racially profiled."
Pieters, who was later allowed into the building after renewing his ID, said he discussed the issue with the society's top executive, Robert Lapper, but received no joy.
Lapper, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, has insisted in a letter to the Toronto lawyer that the guard followed proper protocols and no racial profiling took place. The response, Pieters maintains, amounts to hiding racism.
Adding insult to injury, he said, is that the society displays photographs of him on its Facebook page from various functions where he is one of the few black people in attendance.
Pieters, who is known for his anti-racism activism, won a similar case three years ago when Ontario's top court upheld a tribunal finding of racial discrimination after he and two other blacks 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.
"It's almost like an exact repeat," Pieters said.
The tribunal application also calls on the law society to hire an outside consultant to review its security protocol and policies.