Montreal police chief will march with protesters Sunday as SPVM vows action on street checks

Amid growing calls for reforms, Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron held a news conference Friday to stress the SPVM is committed to eliminating any practice of racial profiling.

Ahead of Sunday's anti-police brutality protest, Chief Sylvain Caron says racism will not be tolerated in SPVM

Chief Sylvain Caron said Friday he would address the disproportionate number of visible minorities stopped by Montreal police. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Amid growing calls for reforms, Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron held a news conference Friday to stress the Montreal police service is committed to eliminating any practice of racial profiling. 

To drive his point home, Caron said he would participate in a protest planned for Montreal on Sunday if organizers were to invite him. 

Soon after Caron's gesture, he received that invitation from Nous sommes la ligue des noirs nouvelle génération, one of the groups behind Sunday's demonstration. The SPVM confirmed the service received the group's invitation, and Caron planned to walk with demonstrators.

Pharaoh Freeman, one of the organizers, said he welcomes the police chief's willingness to walk with protesters.

"We really don't feel it's possible to come up with a solution for police brutality without having a conversation with the police," Freeman said.

"So establishing that relationship, establishing that open line of communication, is really important."

A protest last weekend in Montreal drew more than 10,000 people calling for an end to anti-black racism and police brutality. 

Freeman said Caron's participation on Sunday won't solve the issues at the heart of these protests, but it "does really show their willingness to be allies to the cause."

'Protest the Montreal police chief,' detractors urge

Not everyone agrees with Caron's participation, however, with at least two groups urging protesters to "protest the Montreal police chief."

In a joint declaration on Facebook posted Friday evening, Hoodstock and Justice for Victims of Police Killings, two groups that promoted last weekend's Justice for George Floyd demonstration, urged people to contact the organizers of this Sunday's protest and ask them to retract their invitation to Caron. 

"The presence of the Montreal police chief at a demonstration against police violence and brutality," they wrote, "amounts to reinforcing police impunity." 

"It is also disrespectful to the victims of police violence and impunity, including those people killed by the Montreal police." 

Racism will not be tolerated within SPVM: Caron

Caron said he, along with elected city officials, want police officers to do their jobs "free of discrimination and racism."

He said the SPVM will announce a policy for street checks next month, on July 8, in response to a report last year that found black and Indigenous people were four and five times more likely to be stopped by police and asked to identify themselves. 

Racism, he said, will not be tolerated within the force.

"It was very important, given the context, to let Montrealers know we are not putting this on the back burner," said Insp. André Durocher, speaking in English on behalf of the chief.

Earlier this week, Mayor Valérie Plante also vowed to take steps to get a "better grip on possible systemic discrimination."

The commitments included improving training for police and outfitting police with body cameras.

Plante nixed a proposal to use body cameras last year, citing the cost and problems with the technology. She did not provide a firm timeline Tuesday for when body cameras would be adopted.

When asked about Sunday's planned protest, Durocher stressed that police saw last week's march and subsequent looting as two separate events.

At last Sunday's demonstration, people held up signs calling for justice for George Floyd and all victims of police brutality in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

One, he said, was "a peaceful march," then afterward "there were people throwing stones, throwing bottles."

Montreal police have also faced calls for change from within their own ranks.

Patrice Vilcéus, an SPVM commander who is black, sent a letter this week to his superiors inside the police service, urging them to take concrete steps against racial profiling.

The SPVM remains largely composed of white officers. Caron and Durocher said the SPVM is committed to recruiting more visible minorities.

"We've made a lot of progress. Have we made as much as we wish we had? The answer is no," Durocher said.

Quebec Premier François Legault insisted on Friday that the vast majority of Quebecers and police officers are not racist.

"Right now, it is important that we all work together to reduce racism, especially in police," he said.

"We have to make sure we put some rules, to make sure it doesn't happen, that we don't tolerate any kind of racism."

As well as Sunday's planned protest, a vigil is scheduled for Friday evening in Repentigny, north of Montreal, where police have also been accused of racial profiling

Watch: Caron says racism will not be tolerated

Changes are coming to the way officers conduct street checks, Montreal Police Chief Sylvain Caron said. That commitment comes after mass anti-racism demonstrations across North America following the death of George Floyd. 0:41

With files from CBC's Sarah Leavitt


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