'Any Negro will do': Police arrest criticized after ethics complaint rejected

The Police Ethics Committee has ruled that the use of force against a Montreal man who was wrestled to the ground outside a dépanneur in February was not unreasonable.

Errol Burke fit broad description of a stabbing suspect in the area when injured by police

Errol Burke says he is upset police never apologized after he was tackled to the ground and injured when officers assumed he was a suspect wanted in a nearby stabbing. (CBC)

The Police Ethics Committee has ruled that the use of force against a Montreal man who was wrestled to the ground outside a dépanneur in February was not unreasonable.

Errol Burke filed a complaint after police confused him with a stabbing suspect.

He left his apartment on Feb. 18 to buy milk at Dépanneur Bon Soleil on Décarie Boulevard, where he was tackled by police.

Burke, an illustrator, said police pinned him to the wall, handcuffed him, slammed him to the ground, dragged him onto the street and started searching his pockets.

He said he asked the officers why he was being apprehended, and police told him to shut up and stop resisting.

Witness Richard Zilberg was inside the dépanneur and said he saw the events unfold.

"What I felt was that there was a very serious crime, because why would they be very aggressive? I mean really aggressive?" Zilberg said in February.

Police eventually realized he was not the man they were looking for, but Burke said he had already been injured and traumatized.

The Montreal-based Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, known as CRARR, issued a news release Tuesday about the situation, saying Burke had to seek medical attention for back and neck pain after the police mix-up.

'Vague description of a black man'

Police Ethics Committee deputy commissioner Helene Tremblay replied to Burke's complaint in June.

Her reply said the office concluded that the examination of Burke's complaint would not go further.

"It indeed appears that an attempted murder has just occurred in the area and Mr. Burke could correspond to the profile of the wanted suspect," Tremblay stated.

She added that for that reason police intervention was not unreasonable.

"The bottom line is they were looking for a very vague description of a black man," Burke told CBC Montreal's Homerun.

CRARR is calling attention to this situation as being an example of a police practice it calls, "Any Negro will do."

The organization defines "any Negro will do" as a police practice involving the circulation of a broad race‐based suspect description which often results in exposing people who fit that broad description to potentially harmful police arrests."

CRARR director Fo Niemi said the ethics commissioner didn't read Burke's compliant because the ruling does not address the police's use of excessive force.

"In addition to a video recording, there were two eyewitnesses in the store where Mr. Burke was taken down, so we are puzzled that the deputy commissioner discounted this fact," Niemi said.

"The way they used force, they could have broken his neck."

Burke said that he can forgive the vague description police were working with considering the situation, but he is upset about the lack of apology or concern for his well-being.

"If they weren't police officers, this would have been assault," he said.

with files from CBC Montreal's Homerun