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Black Lives Matter Protesters Back Lawsuit Against Toronto Police

The group is in day five of a protest outside police headquarters over the decision not to charge a cop in a fatal shooting. On Thursday, they teamed up with the lawyer of a woman who says police illegally searched her home in 2013.

by Tamara Khandaker
Mar 25 2016, 4:15pm

Photo by Jake Kivanc/VICE News

Entering day five of their protest, a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators calling for police accountability in Toronto walked into police headquarters and let the cops know they weren't going anywhere — and that they were being sued.

Through frigid temperatures, freezing rain, and snow, protesters have been on rotation, holding down the fort in front of the downtown Toronto building. A morale boost came on Thursday afternoon in the form of that symbolic action, as passing cars honked in solidarity.

In a joint statement, lawyer Saron Gebreselassie and Black Lives Matter co-founder Yusra Ali delivered a plea to Toronto Police Services Board on behalf of Jean Montaque, a Toronto woman who says police illegally searched her home in 2013.

Montaque came home from driving her kids to school and was having breakfast when two police officers knocked on her door, claiming they had received a 911 call from her address, according to Gebraselassi, who outlined the statement of claim.

But Montaque said that was impossible because she was driving at the time of the alleged call, and demanded that the officers produce identification and badge numbers, confused about why they had shown up at her doorstep. She claims the officers ignored her requests, at which point she unlocked the door but kept the safety latch on.

The officers "aggressively" broke down the door, yanked down her stereo system, ran upstairs, and searched her apartment, "engaged in belligerent yelling and screaming throughout the duration of the search," alleged the statement of claim.

Montaque's questions were ignored and she wasn't advised of her rights to counsel, Gebraselassi said.

"The [police] are acting with such a great level of disrespect and impunity towards the people of Toronto and black families," she told a crowd of reporters and activists, adding that such an incident could "never ever, ever happen" in affluent Toronto neighborhoods.

"I think serving the lawsuit has lifted the morale here, and that's what it was intended to do," she later told VICE News.

Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash told VICE News on Friday that he couldn't confirm receipt of the lawsuit and that the police's legal team was not aware of it.

Related: Black Lives Matter Stage Overnight Sit-In Over Decision Not to Charge Cop in Toronto

Following the statement, protesters marched inside to serve the papers, chanting "Black lives, they matter here" and "indict, convict, send that killer cop to hell, the whole damn system is guilty as hell."

The protest started in front of city hall on Sunday night, following a decision by Ontario's police watchdog not to indict the officer responsible for the fatal shooting of Andrew Loku, a Toronto man with a history of mental illness.

The Special Investigations Unit found that the officer hadn't used excessive force on Loku, who was allegedly holding a hammer and approaching them at the time he was shot in his apartment building hallway.

The protesters are demanding that charges be laid, the names of the cops involved be released, and that footage from inside the building be made public.

Thus far, the Toronto police have not acknowledged these demands except to say they should be directed at the SIU. They've also been accused of using violence to quell the protests after two incidents on Monday night — one in which police allegedly pushed past a crowd of protesters and forcibly put out a fire they were using as a source of heat and took away their tents, and another in which they doused remaining firewood and other objects with flame retardant to prevent another fire from starting.

Protesters said they'd been pushed, punched, elbowed and that the approach was unnecessarily aggressive.

Police, meanwhile, say they merely used minimum amount of force necessary to enforce the law — the protesters were warned that the fire and tents were illegal, they say — and counter that people in the crowd were throwing punches and shoving officers.

Since police put out their fire Monday night, the activists have stood their ground, bundling up and occasionally warming up inside their own vans, the homes and cars of people in the community, and at local business that have offered up space.

"Miss Montaque feels connected to the community and sees the violence against her as violence against everyone here," said Gebreselassie, explaining the choice to have Black Lives Matter Toronto launch the lawsuit, which names three officers and the Toronto Police Services Board.

She called for an acknowledgement from the police — "no procedural wrangling, no technicalities," she said. "Have the police come out and say we're sorry."

"Maybe agree to some sensitivity training and racial equality training," she continued. "Maybe meet the family and explain yourselves. Don't hide behind technicalities."

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk