Homeless Inuit abused by Montreal police, photographer alleges

Photographer Michael Morris says he saw police in Montreal harass and abuse homeless Inuit while he was visiting the city this summer.

Police appoint aboriginal liaison officer to improve relationship

American photographer Michael Morris spent the summer in Montreal documenting the city's homeless aboriginal population. (Michael Morris)

When Michael Morris was visiting Montreal this summer to photograph a graffiti festival, his focus turned to the city's homeless population. In particular, the city's homeless Inuit population.

Morris honed in on an area around the Cinema du Parc complex.

"I would see them getting off of buses, off of police buses in the morning," he said.

Morris spent time around the Cinema du Park complex in Montreal, taking photos of the homeless.

"Anytime they would try to sit down, security would start harassing them.

"Police would hog-tie them in chains, beat them up, knock them out, choke hold them, all those different things. And just basically abused them," he alleged.

At one point he said he saw officers arresting a drunk man.

"I think it was pretty shocking to see 12 cops at one point on one drunk Inuit." 

Police declined to comment on allegations by Morris, but said if anyone witnesses police abuse, they should contact the Montreal police ethics commission.

"If these abuses are really taking place, we want to know about it so we can make it stop," said Sgt. Laurent Gingras, a spokesperson for Montreal police.

Morris alleges a number of civil rights abuses by Montreal's police against the city's homeless. (Michael Morris)

Rachel Deutsch says she's familiar with these stories. She manages cultural programming at Cabot Square Park, a popular hangout for Montreal's Inuit.

"We often do hear really difficult stories in terms of their interactions with police," she said. "I definitely heard of some stories of violence and aggression."

"We also know that the Inuit population is really over-represented in the homeless population."

A survey of Montreal's homeless earlier this year counted more than 3,000. About 10 per cent were aboriginal. 

Deutsch describes the relationship between the city's homeless population and police as tense.

"They need to have trust in the police," she said. "And right now that's not always happening. Actually, it's rarely happening because there's not a lot of trust in police."

Deutsch has been working with police units around the city and feels positive the relationship can change. 

It's also something the police in Montreal are working to improve.

"The Inuit community are the most vulnerable, the ones that need the most help," said Carlo DeAngelis, the police's newly-appointed aboriginal liaison officer.

In June, then-police chief Marc Parent signed an agreement with the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy NETWORK to create DeAngelis' position to work with the community, add cultural training and establish an aboriginal committee within the police force.

"No matter what the organization, there's always room for improvement," DeAngelis said.

"But if you look at the overall relationship, I think everything's going in the right direction."

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