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A report commissioned by the Montreal police force found that racism was a problem in the force, particularly in divisions serving the city's north end. ((CBC))

The Quebec Human Rights Commission says dozens of cases involving accusations of racial profiling by Montreal police are being stalled by the city.

The city filed an application in Quebec Superior Court Thursday challenging the commission's right to call officers to testify at its hearings. 

It wants the court to extend the provisions of the province's Police Act that protect officers who are the subject of a complaint from having to testify before a police force's ethics board. 

City lawyers and the Police Brotherhood, the union representing police officers, say that same freedom to testify or not should apply in complaints against police investigated by the commission.

"The police have a right recognized by one law; it should apply to the commission as well," said Police Brotherhood lawyer Mario Coderre.

A hearing on the issue has been set for September 2011.

The commission says the city's court battle will delay ongoing investigations into roughly 60 cases, and commission lawyer Pierre-Yves Bourdeau calls it the city's legalistic way of delaying the proceedings.

"Is the city afraid … [of] the commission [making] … any inquiry regarding racial profiling?" said Bourdeau. "We don't know."

Growing concern

Many of the racial profiling cases the commission is concerned will be stalled are being handled by the Montreal-based anti-racism advocacy centre Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRAAR).

"It's taxpayer money to fight taxpayers civil rights before the courts," said CRAAR co-founder Fo Niemi. "People will say it's not useful to complain because they cannot proceed, so maybe they won't make complaints regarding acts that may involve racial profiling."

The commission is about to publish its findings from a special study on racial profiling. It held hearings last summer at which Montreal officers spoke alongside elected officials but denied that there is a problem with racial profiling in the force.

However, at the same time, a report commissioned by the police force itself found that racism was a problem in the force, particularly in divisions serving Montreal's north end.