Montreal

Montreal names ex-Mountie, a 'reformed racial profiler,' to anti-racism bureau

Alain Babineau, a former RCMP officer and prominent police-reform advocate, has joined Montreal's new anti-racism bureau, where he will lead efforts to address racial and social profiling.

But Alain Babineau's appointment was met with criticism from police union

Alain Babineau, a former CRARR spokesperson and RCMP officer, is joining Montreal's new Bureau to Fight Racism and Systemic Discrimination. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Alain Babineau, a former RCMP officer and prominent police-reform advocate, has joined Montreal's new anti-racism bureau, where he will lead efforts to address racial and social profiling.

Babineau, spent the past four years working with the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, a civil-rights group that helps victims of racial profiling.

He spoke often at CRARR news conferences, drawing on his 25-year career as an RCMP officer to call for more accountability from police in Quebec. He also holds a law degree from McGill University.

Montreal created the Bureau to Fight Racism and Systemic Discrimination last year. Its role is to advise the city, and other political entities, how to address racial and social justice issues.

This winter, Babineau wrote a column published on CBC Montreal's website, where he called himself "a reformed racial profiler." 

"When I was a police officer, I was just following practices and habits that have been part of the way we were doing policing," Babineau told Daybreak host Sean Henry on Thursday morning. 

"And even though I'm a Black person, I realized that I was actually, in some cases acting, doing racial profiling."

In the column, he also highlighted the role media have played in perpetuating racial stereotypes and how that coverage has in turn influenced policing.

Babineau has criticized activists, too, at times denouncing protest tactics he believed went too far. 

But his nomination by Bochra Manaï, the city's anti-racism commissioner, prompted a scathing reaction from the Montreal police union.

Police Brotherhood president Yves Francoeur said Wednesday, in a memo to members, that the Montreal police force shouldn't become "a testing ground for activists."

Babineau often attended most news conferences held by the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, advocating for victims of police profiling. He left CRARR recently. (Louis-Marie Philidor/CBC)

Francoeur wrote that he respects the role Babineau took on with CRARR but that he "deplores the speed at which he always jumps to the same conclusion" — that police committed racial profiling.

"A minimum appearance of impartiality would have been necessary for this position," Francoeur said. 

In the Daybreak interview, Babineau said Francoeur's letter didn't phase him and that he understands Francoeur's role as a defender of police officers' interests. 

"I'm not upset one bit about what was written," he said, adding he has experience mediating conflict and is confident the bureau will be able to come to agreements with police.

'I'm not anti-police ... I'm pro-good policing': Babineau

Babineau added: "[Francoeur was] speaking on behalf of the membership and protecting the membership from those that they perceive may be a threat to them. But I am no threat. I'm not anti-police. Clearly, I'm pro-good policing. And I think the SPVM has even recognized itself that there needs to be changes."

In July, the Montreal police force announced its new street checks policy, one of its first responses to a report months earlier that found it disproportionately stopped Indigenous, Black and young Arab people. 

The policy drew criticism for not doing enough to prevent officers from making random checks. The City's public security commission asked police in February to improve the policy.

Mayor Valérie Plante was asked on Thursday about the Police Brotherhood's reaction to Babineau's appointment.

She said she didn't play a role in his hiring, just like she didn't play a role in hiring Manaï — whose position as commissioner raised criticism because of her past role in the legal challenges to Quebec's secularism law, known as Bill 21. 

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Bochra Manaï named Montreal's first anti-racism commissioner

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Montreal's first anti-racism commissioner, Bochra Manaï, has come under fire for her work to oppose Quebec's secularism law.

"They got hired because they are competent and I think we need to give ourselves that chance to move forward and work together. And that's what I'm asking all citizens and that's what I'm asking [the Police Brotherhood] as well," Plante said.

Despite many reports recommending police reform in the past decade in Montreal, Babineau says he's optimistic change is finally coming. 

"Everyone on the team are people of action. But again, we're dealing with human beings. We're dealing with community needs and expectations," Babineau said.

"I am very, very optimistic about the the road map that's been put before us."

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak

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