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Kirk Johnson

Kirk Johnson

Halifax police apologise to Kirk Johnson

HALIFAX - Halifax's chief of police apologised to Kirk Johnson on Monday and admitted the heavyweight boxer was discriminated against when an officer stopped and seized his car five years ago, leaving him stranded on the side of a highway.

Frank Beazley said he was sorry for the difficulty the high-profile incident caused Johnson and his family after the black athlete was pulled over in April 1998 for allegedly not having the proper papers for his car.

"I accept the finding that Mr. Johnson was discriminated against and recognize that this has been a humiliating, stressful and painful experience," Beazley said.

"I regret the effect this incident and the inquiry has had on the black community."

But the head of the police association issued a very different statement Monday, insisting that Const. Michael Sanford acted appropriately and did not let race affect his judgment when he stopped Johnson.

Det.-Sgt. Bill Hollis dismissed the opinion of the police chief and the chairman of a human rights commission that found Sanford discriminated against Johnson at least in part because of race.

Hollis denied the veteran officer was guilty of racial profiling after he spotted the 1993 black Ford Mustang, noticed the car's Texas plates, allegedly saw two black men inside and seized the vehicle.

"He made the stop because of his training and experience, not because of racism or profiling or stereotyping," Hollis, head of the Municipal Association of Police Personnel, said moments after Beazley issued an official apology.

"(The association) stands behind Sanford and remains steadfast in our belief that racial profiling is neither condoned nor tolerated by our members."

Hollis said the 450-person association, which has 37 black members, will accept new training to improve racial sensitivity, but he maintained that Sanford should have responded the same way if faced with a similar situation.

Johnson launched the discrimination case after he and his cousin Earl Fraser, who was driving the vehicle, were stopped by Sanford. The boxer accused the officer of pulling the pair over for "driving while black."

Sanford insisted he hadn't seen the colour of the men's skin as he passed them, but Philip Girard, the head of the inquiry, found race was a factor in Sanford's decision to stop the car.

Girard also found Sanford treated Johnson dismissively after the boxer produced his registration and insurance papers from Texas, where he has been living.

Sanford, who will not be disciplined, misread the date on the insurance and didn't recognize the registration sticker on the windshield, leading him to believe Johnson was without valid documentation.

Five police cars arrived on scene and a tow truck later came to take away Johnson's car.

Victor Goldberg, Johnson's lawyer, said he was dismayed by the police association's response and worried that little would change in a force he argued was tainted by systemic racism.

"They don't seem to get it," Goldberg said from his Halifax office, adding that Johnson was training in Dartmouth and not available for comment. "You have to wonder how there can be change if the rank and file don't think there's a problem. They're just worried about their reputation."

Girard ruled that Johnson, 31, is entitled to damages of $10,000, a much smaller sum than the $25,000 Johnson was seeking. Girard also awarded $1,000 to Fraser.

Girard said he didn't believe the Halifax police force is rife with racism. However, he ordered the force to hire two people to complete an assessment on whether race sensitivity training is needed.

Beazley said the force would accept the suggestions by offering Sanford and other members training that deals with stereotyping issues. They will also review sensitivity training to see if it needs to be improved.

The force will also look into ways to gather information on the role race plays in stopping cars. A consultant will be brought in to determine what needs to be done to deal with racial training.


Police union backs officer in Johnson case

A police union is taking issue with a Nova Scotia human rights commission ruling that says boxer Kirk Johnson was a victim of racism.

Detective Sergeant Bill Hollis, of the municipal association of police personnel, says it stands behind the Halifax officer, who pulled over, ticketed and towed Johnson's car in April 1998.

He says Constable Michael Sanford was only doing what his training told him to do when dealing with a suspicious vehicle.

Hollis says racial profiling is not condoned among front line Halifax police officers, or management.

A human rights inquiry concluded race was a big factor in Sanford's decision to stop Johnson's car.

The Olympic boxer's vehicle was ticketed and hauled away because Sanford mis-read Johnson's registration and insurance card.

The car was returned the next day without an apology.

Chief Frank Beazley apologised Monday for what happened and says the force accepts all of the inquiry's recommendations.