Montreal

Black man's arrest was unlawful and racially motivated, Quebec's police ethics committee rules

Two Montreal officers acted unlawfully when they detained, arrested and used force against Kenrick McRae two years ago, according to the ruling.

'This is the best Christmas present I ever received,' Kenrick McRae says of ruling on SPVM

Kenrick McRae said he had faith that someone would listen and understand what he went through when he was arrested by two Montreal officers in 2017. (CBC)

Quebec's police ethics committee has ruled Montreal police officers unlawfully arrested a black man two years ago in what was a racially motivated intervention.

Constables Christian Benoit and Philippe Bernard-Thomassin were found guilty of 16 police ethics violations stemming from an interaction with Kenrick McRae in March 2017.

The officers acted unlawfully when they detained, arrested and used force against McRae, went through and deleted content from a video camera McRae uses to record interactions with police, and lied in police reports, says the 31-page ruling issued Dec. 17.

The decision is one of very few issued by the committee in recent years that uphold a racial profiling claim, according to the Center for Research Action on Race Relations, which helped McRae file the complaint.

"This is the best Christmas present I ever received," McRae, an Notre-Dame-de-Grâce resident, told reporters during a news conference.

He gestured to a camera, smart watch and other gadgets he said spent a few hundred dollars on in order "to be safe, to protect myself [from] the Montreal police."

McRae, who says he was a police officer in his native Guyana, encouraged black men who drive in Montreal to file complaints and take videos when dealing with the local police service.

A spokesperson for the police ethics committee said a hearing will be held in the new year to determine what consequences the officers may face.

Fo Niemi, the executive director of CRARR, said it's possible police will appeal any penalties in Quebec court.

Montreal police declined to comment.

Calls for the SPVM to end street checks — when officers stop people who have not necessarily committed an infraction — have increased in recent months.

A report released in October found Indigenous people and black people were four to five times more likely than white people to be stopped by police, but stopped short of saying officers engage in racial profiling. Allegations of racial profiling have plagued Montreal police for decades.

McRae himself alleges he was the victim of racial profiling in a separate incident, after he ended up with a $500 fine for taking out the recycling earlier this year.

What happened the night of the arrest

According to the ruling, the night of the arrest, McRae was waiting for his girlfriend to withdraw money from the RBC on Westminster Avenue in Montreal West when a police car stopped parallel to his car on the other side of the road.

The squad car then made a U-turn and stopped directly behind him. An officer asked for his licence and registration. McRae said that, after checking his papers, the officer told him the lights above in his licence plate weren't working.

He got out of the car with a video camera to record that the lights were, in fact, fully functional. At that point, one officer asked him to hand over the recorder and, when McRae asked why, he was arrested for what the officer called "disturbing the peace."

The officers pushed McRae up against the back of his car, handcuffed him, then placed him in the back of the police car while his camera was seized and videos were erased.

Eventually, the officers opened the door to the squad car, removed the handcuffs and let him go. Weeks later, McRae filed a complaint with the police ethics commission.

Ruling questions police testimony

The ruling,  points out that when McRae exited his car to check the lights, the interaction with police was over and he was within his rights to get out and check his car.

In their testimony, the officers inferred they were afraid when McRae got out of his car. But the ruling said the police report, written at the time of the events, doesn't convey that fear.

McRae, centre, spoke at a news conference flanked by retired RCMP officer and CRARR advisor Alain Babineau, left, and Fo Niemi, CRARR's executive director. (Louis-Marie Philidor/CBC)

The officers denied they went through the camera because, they said, they believed it contained evidence that McRae ran at Bernard-Thomassin with a closed fist while clenching his jaw and taking long strides.

But the ruling questions that defence, asking why McRae was never charged with assault if there was proof he charged at one of the two officers.

What's more likely, it says, is that the officers wanted to see what McRae had filmed, then deleted footage from the camera.

with files from Claire Loewen

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