Investigate complaints of racial profiling by Repentigny police, activists urge Quebec
Several black men say their interactions with Repentigny police have made them nervous to leave their homes
Some black residents of Repentigny, Que., accuse local police of repeated acts of racial profiling — a situation anti-racism advocates say demands a response from the provincial government.
Four men spoke publicly Wednesday about their multiple encounters in recent years with police in the city of 87,000 just off the northern tip of the island of Montreal. They described interactions that ranged from being asked for identification to being arrested without cause.
One of the men, Leslie Blot, said he was inflating toys for his children on his own front lawn two years ago when a circling police cruiser stopped. Officers asked him for identification.
"I refused because I was at home," he said. "I took out my phone and started filming because I felt threatened."
The video, which was shared with CBC News, shows two officers demanding to see Blot's ID because, they said, he was "operating a vehicle."
In the video, Blot directed the camera at the car to illustrate he was using the lighter outlet to power an electronic pump.
As tensions mounted, he handed his phone to his brother and then was handcuffed. His brother continued to film the incident, but the officers then took the phone from him and deleted the video, Blot said.
He was issued roughly $1,000 worth of fines and then released.
Blot said he was able to retrieve the video from his phone and showed it to prosecutors when he challenged the tickets in court. The fines were withdrawn soon after, he said.
"All that happened in front of my son, my children," Blot said. "My son was traumatized. Ever since then, when he sees a police officer, he asks if I'm going to be arrested."
'I haven't been the same person'
François Ducas, a high school teacher, said he was stopped several times in 2016 and 2017 while driving his BMW. The last time, in December 2017, he was handcuffed, only to be released without charge.
"Every time I leave my place, I'm nervous," Ducas said. "My wife will tell you for the last two years I haven't been the same person. I've become someone who is empty."
Stanley Jossirain said he's been stopped by police so many times that he, too, has grown afraid of leaving the house.
Jossirain has filed six separate complaints with Quebec's human rights commission for a string of incidents between April and August 2018. The complaints name 16 officers in all.
Another man, 75-year-old Serge Damord, said officers asked him for identification while on his way to a dépanneur recently.
"Every time they say we'll fix this problem, it keeps going on," he said. "I know you can't resolve this problem in one day. It's a big problem. So we need help from people to try to do something for us."
Situation has 'reached a crisis': CRARR
Montreal's Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), which organized a news conference with the Repentigny men, wants Quebec's public security minister to open an investigation into the Repentigny police force.
"The racial profiling situation has practically reached a crisis," said Fo Niemi, CRARR's executive director.
Niemi called on other black people who've been stopped by police in Repentigny to share their stories with his organization.
Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault avoided giving a direct answer Wednesday when she was asked whether she intended to launch an inquiry into the complaints about Repentigny police.
She said racial profiling concerns were "recurrent" in Quebec. She also said she is considering adding a citizen representative to a task force of police officers from all over the province examining how to deal with racial profiling.
Repentigny officials, for their part, maintained there was no need for a government-led investigation. Repentigny police Chief Helen Dion said the force has taken several measures recently to improve relations with cultural communities.
She accused CRARR of "not collaborating" with these measures. But Dion also said that any officer found to have engaged in racial profiling would be disciplined.
12-year-olds playing hide-and-seek handcuffed
This is not the first time civil rights advocates have sought to highlight racial profiling issues with the Repentigny police service.
In December 2018, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission recommended that three Repentigny police officers, as well as the police service itself, be fined $42,000 for the way a couple of black pre-teens were treated in 2013.
The commission said the officers racially profiled the 12-year-olds when they swooped in and handcuffed the children, after breaking up a game of hide-and-seek at a birthday party. The police said the boys matched the description of youths who had broken the window of a car. It turned out the window had been broken days earlier.
Repentigny refused to pay the damages. The case is currently before the province's human rights tribunal.
- A previous version of this story stated officers pointed their guns at Serge Damord after asking him for identification while on his way to a dépanneur. In fact, officers did not point their guns at him when asking for his identification.Jul 11, 2019 2:54 PM ET
With files from Radio-Canada