A fundraising effort to cover the legal fees of a young Black man who says he was racially profiled when a white woman called 911 on him for standing on a bridge will go in part towards helping pay for legal representation for anyone who finds themself needing help for a race-related incident.

Last week, Ntwali Bashizi was resting on a bridge after a bike ride when a woman approached and asked him to move so she could pass while adhering to physical distancing guidelines. When he didn’t, the woman called 911.

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Michael Spratt, a criminal defence lawyer, had been on standby for the community, offering to provide free legal representation for anyone who needed it at a massive march on Parliament Hill against racism in June.He is now representing Bashizi and said he went with him to the police station last week to speak to senior police officers.

Spratt had been doing the work pro bono, which he says he was happy to do, but then the organizers called and asked instead to retain his firm for any emergency situations in which Black people might find themselves needing legal advice or advocacy because of a race-related incident.

Organizers don’t know how long Spratt’s services will be needed or how long the work will continue, but the idea to expand this representation was an easy one for them.

“We also recognize that there’s so many people who don’t have access to funds and this is why (Spratt) does what he does, which is why we said what is left over from this case we can then turn that into a trust for other Black people that need legal representation with race-related cases,” Whitelocke said.

“It’s up to the organization how they would like to spend whatever additional money they’ve raised,” Spratt said. “That money is held in trust on their behalf and they can use it however they like. If there are emergency cases with inappropriate police intervention or criminal charges or individuals looking to contact the police over incidents of racism or hate, the expectation would be that our firm would be able to assist those individuals.”The firm would do so at a discounted rate.

Whitelocke called it “an extremely good opportunity for us to be able to demand justice not just for Ntwali, but for the next person that deals with this type of behaviour because it will not be the last.”

The question might be for some why innocent people, who’ve done nothing wrong, require a lawyer. But Spratt explained that the work is more than defending against an allegation of wrongdoing, it’s about advocacy.

“It’s just really important that people know that lawyers, and especially lawyers who do criminal work do all types of work. We represent victims of sexual assault. We represent people who have been accused but there’s also important advocacy to do in the community and especially for communities that have had troubled relationships with the police,” Spratt said. “It’s always good to have an advocate to push those in power to act in the best way possible, to disclose information, to take complaints seriously and to bear witness to interactions with the police in case there are any problems in the future.”

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Read Shaamini Yogaretnam’s full article: Ottawa Citizen

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