The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Solicitor General’s Department destroyed the DNA profiles of 96 migrant farm workers obtained during a sexual assault investigation near Tillsonburg in September 2013.
The move is part of a settlement reached with dozens of employees who were questioned for their DNA samples as part of the case.
Advocacy group Justicia 4 Migrant Workers (J4MW) called the outcome a “complete victory” after a lengthy legal battle in which it alleged that police illegally forced the workers to provide the DNA samples.
“This is one of the most classic battles between David and Goliath. One of the most marginalized communities standing up for their rights,” said Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer at J4MW. “(Police) thought they would get away with this carte blanche.”
The settlement follows the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling last year that OPP racially assaulted 54 migrant farm workers when they investigated a violent assault of a woman living alone in her home in rural Elgin County a decade ago.
The woman told detectives that her attacker was black, male and in his mid-twenties. She also believed he was a migrant worker with what she believed to be a Jamaican accent.
The chief prosecutor, a migrant farm laborer from Jamaica, told the tribunal he was given a choice to either submit DNA to police or lose his job. Of 100 farm workers who were offered a similar choice, only four refused.
In the end, none of the DNA samples the police collected matched what was found at the crime scene.
In November 2013, police finally arrested Henry Cooper, who pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and making death threats, and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
In addition to destroying the workers’ DNA profiles, the provincial police have agreed to seal the investigation file containing the workers’ personal information.
The force will also need to develop a policy to ensure that DNA sweeps and future investigations comply with Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Each of the 54 migrant workers who were part of the case will also receive $7,500 in damages, totaling $405,000.
“This is very important. This sets an important precedent,” said Ramsaroop. “This is an important step not only for migrant workers, but also for addressing privacy rights, workplace rights, surveillance rights and the right to racial justice for all members of our community.”