Police, student stories from altercation at Brampton high school don’t match; Catholic Board refuses to acknowledge allegations of anti-Black racism
In the early morning hours of the school day on November 9th, nearly 30 police officers descended on Cardinal Leger Secondary School in Brampton, responding to a rare call that one of their own was in danger.
According to police, a youth investigative officer was at the Catholic high school in a meeting with the principal, Frances Campese. During that meeting, a fight broke out in the school cafeteria. When the officer, who was in plain-clothes, tried to intervene, two of the girls attacked her. When police were called, it triggered a 10-33, a police call-sign used when an officer is facing imminent danger. When officers hear the call on the radio, the assumption is a life or death situation could be unfolding. A 10-33 call is meant to draw the largest police presence possible in the shortest amount of time. On November 9, it drew several squad cars and a nearby tactical team to the school within minutes.
All three girls, two 15-year-olds, one 17-year-old, were arrested. No injuries were reported.
“Peel Regional Police understands the public interest and concerns of parents and School Administration when incidents occur on school grounds. As such, we remain committed to transparency and sharing accurate information following school-related calls for service,” a press release from Peel Police stated.
After repeated requests for comment in response to a list of detailed questions — the first on November 19 and again on December 21 — a media officer from Peel Police told The Pointer during a January 2 phone call he would not “be able to answer the questions for [The Pointer] at this point,” but would connect with his supervisors to provide a response. Three weeks later, no response or update on the request was provided.
David Bosveld, a community advocate who has done extensive work to address anti-Black racism and sits on Peel Police’s Anti-Racism Advisory Committee, speaks at a town hall where the incident at Cardinal Leger was the focus.
(Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer)
News of the school incident spread quickly on social media, generating headlines across multiple breaking news websites, repeating the police narrative of “Youths Arrested After Assaulting a Police Officer”.
But information has since come forward that raises questions about what really happened.
Several students who were eyewitnesses to the events inside the cafeteria that morning have shared stories that vary significantly from the narrative Peel Regional Police have shared, which has been backed up by the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board in a letter to parents.
The police state the plain-clothed officer announced herself as a member of the Peel Regional Police before attempting to intervene in the fight. Students who were present say this did not happen.
According to police it was the teen girls who initiated contact, assaulting the officer after she stepped in to stop the argument. Students say it was actually the officer who initiated contact, turning and pushing one of the students away from the altercation before they fought back—not knowing they were dealing with a police officer; they claim she did not identify herself.
The Peel police press release also states no injuries were reported. But one girl detained by police was later taken to hospital and was reportedly throwing up blood. When she tried to leave the hospital later that day, she suffered a seizure.
In a video taken shortly after the incident, viewed by The Pointer, one of the teen girls is detained by four officers outside the school. She is shaking and crying out for her mother.
The DPCDSB declined to comment on the discrepancies between the stories of the police and students, citing the matter being before the courts, and “student privacy and confidentiality”.
“The principal and school staff responded to the incident in complete compliance with the Police/School Board Protocol agreement to which the DPCDSB and local law enforcement agencies are signatories,” Bruce Campbell, a spokesperson with the DPCDSB, told The Pointer.
Despite the commitment to transparency noted in its press release, the Peel Regional Police did not respond to questions from The Pointer about the apparent contradictions in the stories shared by police communications and the school and students who witnessed the arrest.
The incident is the latest involving a police force with a poor track record in its dealings with Peel’s Black communities. It raises questions about the commitment of the PRP to the agreement it has signed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to root out systemic racism within the force. And it once again puts the DPCDSB under the microscope. The Board was chastised by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 2005 for discriminating against Black students. Now, as allegations of anti-Black racism and racist or misogynistic treatment of Black students surface around the November incident, which has been widely publicized, it raises questions about how much the Catholic Board has changed over the last 20 years.
Accounts of the culture at the board and the treatment of Black students, who have alleged widespread racism in day-to-day school routines, are now swirling as the public system (the Peel District School Board) continues to address systemic racism found by the Ministry of Education in multiple reviews that led to the Province’s recent takeover of governance at the public board, and sweeping directives handed down by the Ministry to finally root out anti-Black racism and other forms of discrimination that had become ingrained in the PDSB culture over decades.
Now, students and families in Peel’s Catholic Board are demanding the same type of action.
“I don’t think anybody understands what was going on in that moment. The officer really didn’t understand,” Tyia, a student who witnessed the altercation on November 9, said during a town hall meeting hosted by Parents of Black Children following the altercation. “I would just say the officer came onto the scene and did not feel the need to de-escalate, there was no de-escalation, she just came on the scene and she did not announce herself, she did not de-escalate, she did not ask if everyone was okay.”
Students at a town hall address the altercation with a Peel Police officer who witnesses say failed to identify herself during a school altercation.
(Joel Wittnebel/The Pointer)
The alleged lack of de-escalation techniques and failure of the officer to identify herself as a member of the Peel Regional Police are at the centre of the discrepancies between what Peel Police say happened that day, and what student witnesses say occurred. There are no arguments that a physical altercation took place at Cardinal Leger on November 9th, but students fighting off a stranger who approached them during a heated argument, and students beating down a police officer are two very different stories.
Advocates speaking at the town hall meeting on December 7, and others interviewed by The Pointer who have spoken with eye-witnesses also question the reliability of the police narrative.
“Anything they say about us is believed,” Charline Grant, with the group Parents of Black Children, said. “Our pain is normalized.”
During the town hall, Grant shared how she spoke with the mother of one of the girls arrested who ended up in hospital afterward. She likened the arrest to that of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest in 2020.
“When somebody suggests to me that teenage girls, 15 and 17-years-old, woke up in the morning at 9:50, brought themselves to school and decided to dummy a cop, I have questions,” David Bosveld, a Black advocate and member of the Peel Police Anti-Racism Advisory Committee (ARAC) said. “I feel like those questions should be asked by anyone in a position of power in any of the institutions that were involved in this.”
Neither the DPCSB or the Peel Police are willing to share further details about the incident, despite requests for clarification. It remains unknown why the plain-clothed officer was in attendance at the school in the first place, or why a press release about the incident wasn’t issued until November 20th, 11 days after the incident itself and several days after members of PRP’s ARAC committee began asking questions about it.
An internal PRP email viewed by The Pointer explains the officer was called to Cardinal Leger by Principal Campese to “investigate a matter” that fell under Threshold 3 of the Local Police School Board Protocol. According to the Protocol, Threshold 3 matters are “when there is an allegation of criminality or breach of other statutes and there is no known threat to public safety or to the school environment.”
Neither the DPCDSB nor Peel Police would provide more details about the officer's initial presence that day.
The internal email also furthers the police’s narrative of events, which differs from what student witnesses claim, particularly as it relates to de-escalation.
“The officer identified herself as a police officer and attempted to de-escalate the argument (in the cafeteria),” the internal email states. “The de-escalation worked initially with one young woman who stepped away. At this point the other two young woman became assaultive and attacked the officer.”
This varies from student witnesses present who say no de-escalation tactics were used.
“When they say that nobody de-escalated the situation, I believe them,” Bosveld said. “Until the police provide evidence, or the school provides evidence with regards to what they claim happened, I’m not buying it.”
The Pointer asked if the DPCDSB or the Peel Police would be releasing any further evidence to support their version of events, such as camera footage from the school cafeteria or body-cam footage from responding officers. No commitments were made by either institution.
For Peel’s Black communities, the incident has once again raised questions about the commitment of the Peel Regional Police to improve its relationships with them, something it is obligated to do under a partnership with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. While there have been small signs of improvement under Chief Nishan Duraiappah, including the release of a list of recommendations for eradicating systemic racism from within the PRP, street-level occurrences like the Cardinal Leger incident highlight concerns that persist about Peel police’s culture.
Allegations of over-policing and evidence of disproportionate use of force against Black residents raise questions about the persistence of systemic discrimination within the force. Peel police officers were found guilty three years ago of anti-Black racism after they handcuffed a six-year-old girl’s wrists and ankles behind her back with her stomach to the ground and kept her in that position for nearly half-an-hour inside a Mississauga school.
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal found race was a factor in the girl’s barbaric treatment.
Annual use-of-force data show Peel police consistently use force on Black residents at more than three times the rate compared to whites.
Now, questions are being raised about the incident inside a Peel Catholic Board school and why there was such an excessive police response.
Peel police have not explained why a 10-33 call was made, prompting a massive show of force that included a tactical unit, for what was considered a possible life or death situation for an officer who was dealing with a “heated argument” between students.
Given the disproportionate response, it seems unlikely that de-escalation could have been achieved, when the approach of police was to instead use a significant show of force, even by the plain-clothed officer who allegedly used a violent response from the beginning, according to multiple witnesses.
“Why are these institutions accepting a version of events, and literally raining down a disaster on three young girls and the entire school?” Bosveld said. “Even though there are three children at the centre of this incident there’s countless witnesses who know what they saw, have shared what they saw consistently. And when they go on Instagram they are facing racist bullying, harassment and hatred because people are saying ‘oh yeah those Black girls just beat up a cop, throw them in jail forever, leave the country.”
All three teenage girls are charged with assaulting a peace officer causing bodily harm.
The incident has also raised questions about the DPCDSB handling of complaints from Black students, and has brought to light ongoing issues of systemic anti-Black racism within the school board.
Following the November 9th arrests, student leaders hosted a Black Students Feedback Session with approximately 50 students. The stories shared during the session are a litany of mistreatment, misogyny and blatant racism against Black students.
Among the stories and issues raised:
- teachers referring to Black students as “thugs”
- teachers ignoring bullying and harassment of Black students during classes
- teachers saying the n-word in class, making students “feel less than others”
- behaviour from teachers to “sweep things under the rug”, forcing Black students to “create a scene just to be heard”
- staff perpetuating Black stereotypes and prioritizing the needs of non-Black students
- a teacher telling a Black student Black people were taking jobs he wanted. “She did not want to challenge him because she did not want him to mess with her grades.”
It’s not the first time allegations have been levelled against the DPCDSB. In 2005, the Ontario Human Rights Commission settled complaints against the board following allegations that school disciplinary policies were having a disproportionate impact on racialized communities and students with disabilities. Among the measures mandated as part of the settlement, was additional anti-racism awareness training at the DPCDSB.
The Board did not respond when asked about any additional training that could arise following the November 9 incident, nor did it address any of the disturbing allegations raised by students during the feedback sessions.
In March last year, months before the incident, a petition started by Black students at Cardinal Leger generated nearly 1,500 signatures, raising similar issues of alleged anti-Black racism against graduating students, who were told they would not be allowed to wear their cultural stoles during graduation.
“Many black students have expressed a desire to wear their African American Heritage stoles, which acknowledges systemic racism, commemorates our ancestors, and acknowledges black excellence despite generational setbacks,” the petition describes. Students were told they would face disciplinary action if they wore the stoles during graduation.
“This not only affects black students, but our entirely multi-cultural student body. This statement demonstrates the lack of knowledge and ignorance towards systems set up to hinder the academic success of all minorities and the issue will only grow if we stay silent.”
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