Implications of Racism in Canadian Society: R.D.S. v. The Queen
"The courtroom is no place to find the truth."
This quotation is taken from a Hollywood film, but has a tendency to ring true in legal disputes in Canada involving minority groups. Racism as a component in the Canadian societal context has prevented the realization of truth and justice throughout history. For instance, Donald Marshall Jr. endured a wrongful conviction as a result of racism in the criminal justice system. While this dilemma has proved to be most difficult for minority groups to overcome, critical race theory, as implemented by defence lawyers in R.D.S. v. The Queen, has allowed for the realization of racism as truth in Canadian society and provides a tool for minority groups in future legal battles.
In October of 1993, R.D.S., a Nova Scotian Black youth, was arrested by a white police officer and charged with assault on a police officer in the execution of duty, assault with intent to prevent the lawful arrest of another, and resisting his own arrest. In a Nova Scotia Youth Court, R.D.S. testified that he did not touch the police officer or assault him in any way. He stated that he spoke only to his cousin, who was being arrested by Constable Steinburg, to ask the nature of his arrest and whether or not to contact his mother. R.D.S. testified that Constable Steinburg told him to either "shut up" or face arrest. The youth argued that the police officer proceeded to place both himself and his cousin in a choke hold. Constable Steinburg maintained that R.D.S. assaulted him and obstructed his cousin's arrest. He made no reference to telling the youth to shut up or to placing either youth in a choke hold. (1)
Judge Corinne Sparks, also a member of the Black community, found in favour of R.D.S. Her decision was reached on the basis of the credibility of the witnesses, as the only witnesses called in the trial were the police officer and the youth. The controversy that eventually brought the case to the Supreme Court of Canada was based in Judge Sparks' comments:
I'm not saying the constable has misled the court, although police officers have been known to do that in the past. And I'm not saying that the officer overreacted, but police officers certainly do overreact, particularly when they're dealing with non-white groups. That, to me, indicates a state of mind right there that is questionable. I believe that probably the situation in this particular case is the case of a young police officer who overreacted. And I do accept the evidence of Mr. S. that he was told to shut up or he would be under arrest. That seems to be in keeping with the prevalent attitude of the day.(2)
In making her decision, Judge Sparks reiterated what every reasonable Canadian knows: racism exists in Canada and permeates the criminal justice system. There was no tangible proof of racism in this particular case, but none was required, as its presence can be taken for granted....