By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
A group of demonstrators gathered outside the Durham Regional Courthouse in downtown Oshawa on Sept. 7 as the case for the brothers accused in the beating of Whitby teen Dafonte Miller took another step toward pretrial.
Michael Theriault, 25, a Toronto police officer who was off-duty at the time of the alleged beating in December 2016, and his brother Christian, 21, did not appear at the courthouse for the brief hearing to arrange pre-trial dates on their charges of aggravated assault, assault with a weapon and public mischief. The pair are currently out on bail, but were ordered to appear for the next court date set for Sept. 27.
Outside the courtroom, a group of nearly 30 demonstrators chanted and held signs stating, “we are here for Dafonte,” “Stop White Terror” and other similar slogans and calls to action, displaying the anger of the community.
Ali Naqvi, with the Anti-Racist Network of Durham Region, says the rally was an opportunity to provide an outlet for the people of Durham.
“We thought we would use the skills we have to try to organize a space for people to express their anger and show support for the Miller family,” he says. “We were responding to a need that the community showed us.”
According to a summary of the incident shared by Miller’s lawyer Julian Falconer, the details of which have not been tested in court, Miller and a group of friends were walking through a Whitby suburb when they were confronted by the Theriault brothers, one of whom was carrying a metal pipe. Miller was left with serious injuries, including a broken nose, fractured wrist, a broken orbital bone and an eye so severely damaged it will need to be surgically removed.
The rally outside the courthouse also drew support and the attendance of members from Black Lives Matter Toronto.
“(It’s) important for us to come from Toronto and be in solidarity with people from Durham and let Dafonte’s family and community know that we are here and going to be present for these situations,” said Ravyn Wngz.
The case has received substantial media attention and both the Toronto Police Service and Durham Regional Police have received heavy criticism for not reporting the incident to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the oversight body responsible for reviewing cases where civilians are injured by police officers.
According to the provincial legislation, it is the responsibility of the police officers employer to contact the SIU, and DRPS Chief Paul Martin has used this as his defence for not taking the case to the SIU.
However, on Sept. 11, Martin announced the DRPS would be changing their policies to ensure that any incident in Durham, regarding any police officer, regardless of police force, will be reported to the SIU by the DRPS if there is a need to do so.
The rally marked only the latest instance of demonstrators appearing ahead of the Theriault brothers court case, and both Wngz and Naqvi noted they would only continue as the case moves forward.
“I would love more folks we can get to come, the more we can building that power,” Naqvi says. “A lot of people want to deflect blame and not take accountability, that’s very easy to do. You can call this a big city issue, but it happened in our neighbourhood and we are the ones who have to respond.”
– With files from Dave Flaherty