Victims 'baffled' Montreal police still not tracking racial profiling complaints

Montreal police are still trying to figure out a way to track racial profiling, four years after a coroner's report into the shooting death of Fredy Villanueva. The slow pace of change has left victims discouraged - and calling for action.

4 years after coroner's report recommendation, department still doesn't have numbers

Montreal police have been accused of racial profiling for years. Demonstrators are seen here taking part in an anti-police brutality march in 2008. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Montreal police are still trying to figure out a way to track racial profiling, four years after a coroner's report into the shooting death of Fredy Villanueva recommended the department keep a record of such complaints.

The slow pace of change, outlined during a public consultation on the issue at city hall on Monday, has left victims discouraged — and calling for action.

"It's baffling, especially because we have so many cases of racial profiling," said Farid Charles, who was a victim of racial profiling in April 2010. 

The Quebec Human Rights Commission recommended Charles be given $33,000 in compensation after two police officers arrested him while he waited for a friend outside a take-out restaurant in LaSalle.

Farid Charles was a victim of racial profiling in 2010. (Elias Abboud/CBC)
"You need the data, and you need someone to take ownership of the fact that there is a problem and say, 'Let's research the problem, and let's fix the problem and prevent it from happening again,'" Charles said. 

At Monday's meeting, Cmdr. Caroline Cournoyer said police still need a "digitized system" to track complaints, explaining that some are made to the police ethics board while others are made to the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

She admitted tracking the data has proved to be more complicated than police had originally anticipated.

"We understand that if really want to address the problem, if we want to eradicate racial profiling, we need to know what we are talking about," she said.

Police said it would be a priority in the department's next action plan, which runs from 2018 to 2020.

Why the delay?

Montreal police have been subject to a string of racial profiling complaints in recent months, with one ending in a parking ticket and another in handcuffs, but the problem dates back years.

A landmark 2011 report by the Quebec Human Rights Commission found that ethnic minorities in the province are subject to "police surveillance that is targeted and disproportionate."

Fo Niemi (right) is seen here with Andrew Denis-Lynch and his girlfriend Helena Backa. Denis-Lynch alleged he was the target of racial profiling earlier this year. (Matt D'Amours/CBC )
Fo Niemi, a longtime civil rights activist and executive director of the Centre on Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), said he find the department's explanation for the delay "hard to believe."

"They could track it through the courts, formal complaints to the ethics commission, through the Human Rights Commission, a phone call," he said. 

"Ultimately, it's a matter of accountability. Any public or even private organization of this size running a big operation and saying they don't have any data about complaints ... I think ultimately the CEO or top manager of the institution should be held to account."

Promises, promises

Niemi said promises to address the problem pre-date the coroner's report.

Montreal police made a commitment to address racial profiling as far back as 2002 and devised an action plan for dealing with racial and social profiling in 2012. But the plan hasn't been updated since 2014, Niemi said.

Kenrick McRae, another alleged victim of racial profiling, says he 'doesn't have faith' the police will change. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

Kenrick McRae, another alleged victim of racial profiling, said he "doesn't have faith" improvements will come any time soon. 

Earlier this year, he claimed he was pulled over and handcuffed, then detained in the back of a Montreal police squad car while a video recording of the incident was erased.

Montreal police disputed his account of the incident.

McRae said police pay lip service to the problem of racial profiling, but do nothing to solve it.

"They try to fool people with training and sensitivity and this and that, and then the next day it happens to somebody else. So they're not serious about it."

Charles also said talking about profiling is not enough.

"I need them to take action about this problem. I need them to resolve this problem," he said.

"In certain communities kids can walk freely, but in my community kids are getting stopped at the corner street.  And it's not because they did something wrong. It's because of the complexion of their skin."