How police choose to intervene in crowded parks raises concerns of racial profiling

Two incidents in a busy Montreal park, widely shared on social media over the weekend, have critics concerned that the likelihood of getting stopped for violating COVID-19 prevention rules depends more on who you are than what you are doing.

2 incidents shared on social media over the weekend show enforcement of COVID-19 measures varies

Fatima Keita was in a small group discussing anti-racism efforts when police approached them. She says it appeared they were looking for a way to fine the five women of colour. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

Two incidents in a busy Montreal park — widely shared on social media over the weekend — have critics concerned that the likelihood of getting stopped for violating COVID-19 prevention rules depends on who you are and not what you are doing.

On Saturday, witnesses filmed a group of five women of colour, who were seated in Jeanne-Mance Park in Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood, being surrounded by police officers.

Fatima Keita, who was fined more than $1,500 for breaking the province's rules for small outdoor gatherings in public settings, said the park was filled with others doing the same thing.

"We're all trying to stop the spread, right?" she said. "But this is not about COVID measures. The police wanted to be authoritarian with me. They wanted to specifically target me."

Woman alleges racial profiling in enforcement of COVID-19 measures

2 years ago
Duration 2:33
Fatima Keita is speaking out after feeling she and her friends were targeted by Montreal police Saturday because of their race. They were surrounded by officers at Jeanne Mance Park.

Video of the incident shows that Keita was part of one of many small groups of people sitting together in the park. Quebec's latest rules on outdoor gatherings allow people to meet outside without wearing a mask, provided they are seated two metres apart from those they do not live with.

"People were literally kissing each other over there," she told CBC News.

David Kroeker-Maus was nearby when he saw a group of about 10 officers surround the women.

"No one was bothering us, and no one was bothering most of the other picnic-goers," said Kroeker-Maus, who filmed the incident. "It looked pretty racially motivated."

Video of a man being held and punched by Montreal police officers in Montreal's Plateau neighbourhood was shared widely over the weekend. (Submitted by Leigh O'Brien)

Another video, also from Jeanne-Mance Park, showing a man getting repeatedly punched in the head while being detained by officers, is raising questions about use of police force.

Several officers are seen around the man, as they put him in a hold that one anti-racism advocate says looks chillingly familiar.

The video shows "shocking, very unacceptable and very questionable use of force," says Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations.

He points out that Derek Chauvin, a police officer in Minneapolis, is currently on trial for murder after using a similar hold that resulted in the death of George Floyd.

"Did we learn anything from the George Floyd case last year?" asked Niemi.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante told reporters Monday morning that it's important to know the context of an incident, beyond what is shared online.

"What I can tell you is that police officers are not targeting people based on the colour of their skin if they are in a park. It would be based on people's behaviour," Plante said.

Plante says that's why she supports body cameras for police officers: "Where we can also have the beginning, the middle and the end. I think this is very important."

In a statement, the Montreal police service said it follows the recommendations of public health and the provincial government when enforcing COVID-19 prevention measures.

In the past week, the police service issued 1,005 fines related to COVID-19 prevention, up from 797 a week earlier.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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With files from Chloë Ranaldi and Shuyee Lee