Montreal police service struggles to hire visible minority officers

The Montreal police service is trying to boost the number of visible minority officers, but critics say the SPVM needs to do more to recruit them and to change its overall culture.

Critics say work needs to be done to recruit, but problems also lie in SPVM's culture

Despite the fact that a third of Montreal's population is non-white, fewer than one in ten police officers identifies as Indigenous or a visible minority. Ingrid Cataldo, an SPVM recruitment officer, says it can be hard to persuade some cultures that policing is good, ethical work. (CBC)

The Montreal police service is trying to boost the number of visible minority officers, but critics say the SPVM needs to do more to recruit them and to change its overall culture.

According to the SPVM's 2016 annual report — the latest to be published — 8.5 per cent of its police officers identify as Indigenous or as a visible minority.

Compare that to the city's general population: 32.8 per cent of Montrealers are visible minorities or Indigenous.

Ingrid Cataldo, a recruitment officer with the SPVM, says the police service is trying to increase its contingent of visible minority officers.

"We think that more the police department reflects the population it serves, the better it is in understanding different values, different cultures, different languages," she said.

However, the number of minority officers has remained stuck at around eight per cent for the past decade.

Critics say recruitment efforts aren't strong enough, and targeting minorities for hire isn't all that has to happen.

"Often people think of this issue as somehow the magical solution that's going to solve everything when it comes to racial profiling," says Emilie Nicholas, the president of Québec Inclusif.

"This is not the reality that we see."

SPVM efforts in minority hiring

For the past 20 years, the SPVM has offered  Indigenous people or visible and ethnic minorities an alternative route to becoming an officer.

Instead of spending two years in police technology training, candidates who meet certain academic requirements — those with an undergraduate degree or the equivalent — can do it in seven months.

All recruits must then attend the École nationale de police du Québec in Nicolet.

Mentalities don't change in one day; it's a work in progress.- Ingrid Cataldo, SPVM recruitment officer

Cataldo says the SPVM also invests in recruitment, as well as in demystifying the work of police in cultural communities.

Each station in Montreal has at least one officer dedicated to community relations. Cataldo says it can be hard to persuade some cultures that policing is good, ethical work.

"To change stereotypes, I think we have to work very hard. Mentalities don't change in one day; it's a work in progress," she said.

"I think we have to work with families, not only with communities, but we have to work with our team as well."
Emilie Nicholas, president of Québec Inclusif, says the SPVM's race relations problems lie less with recruitment efforts than with the general culture within the police service. (CBC)

SPVM 'culture' needs work

For Nicholas, the SPVM's race relations problems run far deeper than differences in cultural perceptions.

"There's only so much intercultural dialogue and inclusion policies will do to escape, or to get us out of this pattern of violence and police brutality that we see, especially towards racialized communities," she said.

Nicholas points to how police officers have been shown to deal with a person in a mental health crisis or with someone from a visible minority community.

"All of this will not go away, regardless what the colour of the police is," she said.

Recruitment efforts lacking

Others criticize the recruitment efforts of police forces in Quebec.

Paul Chablo, an officer with the SPVM for 30 years, now heads John Abbott College's police technology program.

While John Abbott is an anglophone CEGEP, Chablo says many of the students come from diverse backgrounds and speak two or three languages, French included.
Paul Chablo, a retired Montreal police chief inspector, is now chair of the police technology program at John Abbott College. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

He's critical of both the SPVM and the provincial police.

"They do not make a sincere effort, in my opinion, to target any type of minority or visible minority from anglophone backgrounds," he said.

"They're still sending us francophone white recruiters. Why, if you want to touch your target markets, do it?"


Sarah Leavitt


Sarah Leavitt is a multimedia journalist with CBC who loves hearing people's stories. Tell her yours: or on Twitter @SarahLeavittCBC.