Afzal Badin, late for evening prayer, assessed that the kitchen knife in his hand was no match for the men in the hallway with handguns. He abandoned his plan to confront them, ran back into his family's apartment, locked the door and dialed 911.
This was a matter, he decided, for the police.
It was after 8 p.m., and moments earlier, the 24-year-old devout Muslim, who prays five times a day, had attempted to take an elevator from his family's 10th-floor Toronto apartment to the lobby, where a friend with a car was waiting outside to take him to a mosque.
Three men he had never seen before – all white and dressed in T-shirts and jeans, he says – were in the elevator when the doors opened and prevented him from entering. One, says Badin, gave him a push. He says he told them he was in a hurry and on his way to the mosque and one of the men blocked his way. Words were said and things quickly escalated.
Now they were pounding on the apartment door.
What Badin didn't know at the time was that the men outside the apartment Feb. 26, 2006, were three undercover Toronto police drug squad officers.
One had been slammed by a judge in a recent landmark racial profiling ruling and, years earlier, had been chastised for his conduct during an encounter with a black man.
While Badin was on the phone with the 911 operator, they burst through the door, guns drawn on his parents and other relatives, ranging from his 73-year-old father to a 6-month-old baby, gathered for a typical Indian dinner, the claim says.
Badin, who says he has never had problems with police before, ended up bloodied from a violent takedown and charged with threatening death, assault with a weapon, assault with intent to resist arrest, and disarming an officer.
Later that evening in hospital, eight staples were needed to close a gash on his top right scalp, four for a cut on the top right part of his head, and two more for another scalp wound. A cut on his cheek took three stitches to close and pieces of two front teeth were lost.
Eight months later, an assistant Crown attorney, having reviewed the case and the 911 call, and consulted colleagues including Toronto's Crown attorney Paul Culver, withdrew all charges against Badin.
In a statement of claim filed last week, Badin alleges police instigated a confrontation, initially failed to identify themselves, used excessive force, breached his right to be free from discrimination of race, ethnic origin, and religion, and negligently "by reason of racial stereotype" considered him to be a "lesser person."
Badin and family members are seeking $2.6 million in damages. Four police officers, the police chief, and the Toronto Police Services Board are named as defendants.
Police have not yet filed a statement of defence and the allegations have yet to be proved in court. A police spokesperson said the service intends to defend itself.
The claim that race and religion may have played a role in the incident comes at a trying time for a police service committed to improving relations with various communities – and for a drug squad trying to carry on business in the wake of a series of internal scandals, lawsuits, and criminal charges.
Glenn Asselin, one of the four named officers, was found by a judge in 2004 to have, along with a partner, "fabricated significant aspects" of their evidence and given "untrue" testimony in a case involving a 2001 traffic stop of Kevin Khan, a black motorist wrongly accused of possessing cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.
The judge determined Khan, then 26, a teacher and real estate agent, had been stopped by Asselin (and an officer no longer on the force) because of his black skin and the expensive car he was driving. Justice Anne Molloy, in acquitting Khan, also found that he did not know there was cocaine in the car.
One month after that ruling, charges against another black man charged by Asselin and the same former officer were stayed and withdrawn without explanation. The man's lawyer, John Struthers, pointed to the earlier ruling as the reason, and called on the Department of Justice to review cases involving Asselin. It's unclear what became of that request but there was an "extremely comprehensive" internal probe of Asselin's work on the Khan case, said a police spokesperson.
"The (judge's) comments were investigated by a member of the homicide squad, who looked into the entire matter," said Mark Pugash. "The officer's investigation was reviewed by a group of senior people in the organization and their recommendation was there was no evidence to support allegations of misconduct against Asselin."
Khan, too, is suing. Police are challenging his allegations. The case is before the courts, and therefore police won't say any more about the internal probe into the judge's comments.
Asselin had also been cited in another questionable traffic stop of a black man in 1993. A judge found that Asselin and then-partner Richard Shank had "no reasonable basis to stop and demand identification" from the man, who was stopped on a "hunch" in a "drug-infested" area while walking to his car.
Police found no drugs but charged Paul Reece with failing to give proper I.D., driving while under suspension, and assaulting police. Acquitted, he launched a lawsuit of his own – alleging he'd been beaten en route to the police station – that was settled out of court for "tens of thousands" of dollars, Reece's lawyer told the Toronto Star in 2004.
Asselin is not facing – nor has he ever faced – any criminal charges.
Asselin and two other officers named in the suit, Daryl Bell and Douglas Barnard, did not respond to requests for comment. Another officer, Robert Ouellette, declined to comment.
The suit alleges in part that Police Chief Bill Blair was negligent in failing to instruct officers in the need to maintain an "even hand in policing a culturally and ethnically diverse population," and for allowing the named officers to remain members when they "lacked suitable temperaments for such employment."
The officers were in the building conducting an unrelated investigation.
Badin's civil lawyer, Barry Swadron, said in an interview "certain portions of the Crown disclosure cause me a great deal of concern from a profiling point of view. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to provide details at this time."
Swadron said this case is an example of a civilian being confronted by "old clothes" – or undercover – officers and the confusion over identification and tragedy that can result.
"After reviewing the disclosure and the 911 tape in this matter," the assistant Crown attorney told court last Sept. 12 in the matter of Regina v. Afzal Badin, "and seeing that there is no reasonable prospect of conviction, we are going to ask that all charges ... be marked withdrawn at this time."
Badin came to Canada from India at age 12. He chose several years ago to grow his beard, he wears a traditional Muslim hat and spends hours each day in prayer at the Masjid Darus Salaam mosque on Thorncliffe Park Dr.
The news from court brought great relief. "That was so good," Badin said in a recent interview.
Far better than the night he had the elevator encounter with the three undercovers – identified in the statement of claim as Asselin, Ouellette and fellow drug squad officer Daryl Bell.
When the elevator doors opened around 8:20 p.m., one officer inside, according to Badin's statement of claim, told him to take the stairs. It was the 10th floor, Badin replied, and he tried to board. One officer, according to the claim, grabbed his hand in an attempt to push him from the elevator. All the while, the men "kept uttering profanities." The officers, Badin told the Star, also mistook his religious hat for a "do-rag" – a head covering favoured by some hip-hop artists.
His claim states the three men tried to escalate the situation, so he offered to take the next elevator. He alleges the men "pushed him" away from the button. He then ran to the apartment and announced to about eight family members inside that some men were giving him trouble.
"In a panic," the claim states, he grabbed a kitchen knife and rushed back out hoping to "frighten" the men. His pregnant sister and her husband, went out as well, unarmed. Once outside, they saw that two of the men had guns drawn, turned to get back inside and, in the confusion, Badin's brother-in-law was locked outside with the armed men, who in short order he discovered were police.
Inside, there were "thunderous sounds of attempts to kick in," the door, accompanied by demands that the door be opened or "we will shoot." Inside, Badin at some point dropped the knife and made the 911 call.
The lock gave and the three men rushed inside. A fourth man, identified in the claim as officer Douglas Barnard, also entered.
Family members attempted to shield Badin from the men, and according to the claim, his father was twice shoved and his pregnant sister "pushed ... out of the way." His brother was "grabbed ... by the throat" and shoved. One of the men, according to the claim, pointed a gun at Badin's half-brother, who was holding an infant. Police, according to the claim, eventually got to Badin, who had run "terrified" toward the balcony. "Two of the men pointed their guns at him and threatened to shoot him," states the claim. One officer struck Badin "with the butt of his gun and Afzal fell down," where he was kicked and punched in the face, head and body, the claim says.
Around 8:30 p.m., he was driven to 53 Division station and then to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre to be stapled and stitched up. Nearly five hours later, he was returned to the station, where, according to the claim, he was strip-searched. He was released on bail later that day.
Badin says he now fears police, and when he has contact with them, he looks away. He also says his parents were left shocked. "Every time I step out of the house," he said in an interview, "they tell me to be careful."