Montreal

Landmark tribunal decision in profiling case paves the way for major police reform in Quebec

The city of Longueuil decided Wednesday not to appeal a Human Rights Tribunal ruling in a racial profiling case. That means the city's police force is now required to make major changes, and the decision could have a ripple effect across the province.

City of Longueuil's decision not to appeal Human Rights Tribunal ruling creates precedent

Joel DeBellefeuille says the fact that the city of Longueuil is not appealing a Human Rights Tribunal decision in his profiling case paves the way for police forces across the province to make changes. (CBC News)

The decision by the city of Longueuil Wednesday not to appeal a Quebec Human Rights Tribunal judgment in a racial profiling case means the city's police force will have to make major changes within two years, and experts say the decision could lead to systemic changes across the province.

"I'm super excited. It's tremendous news. It's huge — an excellent ending to 2020," Joel DeBellefeuille, the man who filed the initial complaint after being stopped by Longueuil police eight years ago, told CBC in an interview Thursday.

Geneviève Griffin, the lawyer who argued DeBellefeuille's case before the tribunal, was informed by a lawyer from the city yesterday that it would not appeal.

"We're hoping that this would be a precedent that would be used elsewhere," Griffin told CBC.

"This is a groundbreaking ruling that is going to change the way police forces and cities interact with visible minorities," DeBellefeuille said.

Anti-profiling training, data collection ordered

The city's acceptance of the ruling puts an end to DeBellefeuille's eight-year legal battle after he was stopped by Longueuil police officers while dropping his son at daycare for no other reason than he was Black.

The decision last month by Judge Christian Brunelle ordered the city to pay DeBellefeuille $12,000 in damages.

But it also requires the city to make major changes to its police force, and Longueuil's decision not to appeal means those changes will proceed starting in the new year.

The tribunal decision requires Longueuil police to start making major changes to its police force in 2021. (Radio-Canada)

The judgment orders the city to collect and publish annually, starting in 2021, statistical data concerning the "perceived or presumed racial affiliation of people subject to a police stop in order to document the phenomenon of racial profiling."

It also requires all Longueuil police officers to receive extensive training to prevent profiling and discrimination. That training must happen within two years.

And the decision recommends the training be updated and repeated regularly and that the city follow up to see how well it's working.

No one from the city of Longueuil was available to comment.

Landmark ruling

Fo Niemi, executive director of Montreal's Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, which helped DeBellefeuille with his complaint, told CBC this is a landmark ruling.

"All these systemic remedies are new and they are unprecedented, especially the one dealing with race-based data collection," Niemi said.

Niemi said police forces in Quebec have generally opposed the idea of gathering statistics based on race, arguing such a practice would be discriminatory and illegal.

"Now you have a court decision that basically legalizes and legitimizes race-based data collection," he said.

Niemi believes this decision will have a ripple effect.

"We have at least 10 more cases before the tribunal dealing with racial profiling, involving Laval police, Repentigny police, Montreal police — and in many of the cases, the same things are being asked," he said.

"All these things are now part of case law and can be used to apply to every other police department in the province," he said.

Ruling has more weight than political promises

Some police forces have already been making changes in this direction.

Montreal police adopted a policy of banning random street checks in July and set out a set of specific criteria to justify such checks. The force also said it would begin collecting data on the ethnocultural identity of people who are stopped.

Last month, Repentigny police hired a consulting firm to develop a plan to be more inclusive and to prevent profiling.

And earlier this week, the province announced it would make racial profiling an infraction in the police ethics code.

But Niemi says none of those moves has the same weight as a legal ruling.

"Here you have basically a court-ordered list of measures, and the failure to implement those measures can be challenged in court," he said.

Griffin noted that some police forces have said they'll adopt diversity training and leave it at that, but she said the ruling would force them to do more.

"It's not because some type of training is put in place that it's necessarily sufficient," she said. "Training on cultural diversity is not at all the same as training on racial profiling."

Griffin noted that the ruling includes very specific guidelines that must be included in Longueuil's training program.

'Mr. Legault, you need to address this issue'

DeBellefeuille said he's glad that something positive came from his profiling experience.

"It's been eight long years, eight long painstaking years not knowing what the end result will be, but with every bad usually comes good," DeBellefeuille said.

"It's extremely humbling to know that I had a little bit of something to do with it," he said.

DeBellefeuille said the decision weakens Premier Francois Legault's argument that systemic racism isn't a problem in Quebec.

Premier François Legault has repeatedly denied the existence of systemic racism in Quebec. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

"The 68-page decision was littered with the word systemic, you know systemic racism and discrimination, so the judge actually recognized that there is an issue," DeBellefeuille said.

"We need to address this issue. Mr. Legault, you need to address this issue. This is an issue. Nobody would wait eight long years of constantly fighting something for no reason," he added.

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.

(CBC)

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.

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