Two First Nations men have filed a lawsuit against the Ontario government and Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) after they say they were unlawfully arrested and mistreated in Orillia, Ont.
The brothers seek $400,000 in damages.
On Sept. 15, 2018 Randal May, a member of Nipissing First Nation, arrived at his home in Orillia when OPP Const. Mark Connor came onto his property, arrested him and tasered him multiple times.
Shortly after May’s brother Aaron Keeshig arrived, he was thrown to the ground and arrested by Const. Andrew Markle.
The arrest was caught on camera by a family friend.
May says he doesn’t know why police were there, or why he was arrested.
“Somehow, the individual who approached me seemed to think he had right to accuse me of something, but he never really said what it was. He just tried to prevent me from walking freely in my own home, and told me that I was resisting arrest.”
Keeshig says he felt helpless while watching his brother’s arrest.
“I love my brother, man. To me, I don’t want my brother to die and in my mind that’s what it felt like. In order for me to not get out of hand, and trying to watch it. I know if I would have done something, it probably wouldn’t have been the taser gun it would have been a gun if I would have got physical I just know it.”
The brothers were taken to jail, released, and sought legal council.
Promise Holmes Skinner, an Anishinaabe kwe, Ojibway woman from Toronto is one of two lawyers leading the lawsuit.
According to the suit, the officers breached charters of human rights abuses and racial profiling, unlawful detention and false imprisonment, assault and battery, negligence, misfeasance, and conversion.
She says its the first time in her career she’s seen a case like this.
“Fortunately, I haven’t come across this issue before, not that I haven’t come across the issue of my clients being assaulted by police, but I haven’t come across there being an issue of a blatant brazen assault caught on video in broad daylight…committed by the OPP.”
The allegations have not been tested in court.
After being detained, May and Keeshig claim their treatment only worsened.
“As a result of the multiple electric shocks, Mr. May had lost control of his bowels, and officers forced him to spend the night in custody in a shirt and soiled underwear. As he was forced to clean his clothes using water from the toilet bowl,” said statement of claim filed on July 22.
Keeshig alleges he and his brother’s time in Orillia jail was humiliating.
“He (the guard) was the guy who gave us our blankets and sandwiches after me demanding it after five, six, seven hours. It seemed like forever. And I did ask them if I could call a lawyer and they said the lawyer was in the basement busy,” Keeshig said.
“And what? It’s two three o’clock in the morning? Still didn’t let me have my call. And I had to demand my food and demand my blankets while I was standing in my underwear. They humiliated us in there.”
May and Keeshig were released the following day and charged with offences including resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, intoxication in public and open liquor.
Weeks later they filed a complaint.
“The brothers were troubled by police conduct and filed a complaint to the office of the Independent Police Review Director,” according to the claim.
The suit alleges that instead of conducting a good faith investigation, the complaint was turned over back to whom it was targeted against.
“The OPP officers assigned to investigate, began harassing Mr. May and pressuring him to drop the complaint.”
It states one OPP officer even went so far as to offer to withdraw May’s criminal charges if he in turn would withdraw the complaint.
Skinner refers to intimidation allegations as a larger issue within the legal system.
“You know, folks are shocked to hear that part of the story. And it seems folks are more shocked by that piece of information. It goes to show how much trust the public has in the OPP and the systems we have set up to oversee the OPP.”
All of May and Keeshig’s charges have now been dropped.
They state they want not only justice but awareness for future generations.
“So it’s only now that I start to materialize the significance of this behaviour, and if there is something that can be brought to the attention of the law makers that there may be some changes in the future so that our grandchildren and children wont have to receive that behaviours from the policing body.”
An OPP spokesperson said they could not comment on the lawsuit because it’s before the courts.
For now, Skinner, May, and Keeshig wait patiently to hear back from for a response to the lawsuit.