Montreal police fail to address racial profiling, report says
'Police don't understand the lives of the people they're policing,' says leader author of report
A newly released report shows Montreal police have failed to achieve many of the objectives they set for themselves in a plan to address racial profiling five years ago.
Police commissioned the report from experts in 2015 to analyze how well it had done in putting into action a two year-plan to address racial and social profiling.
The report's lead author is Myrna Lashley, a McGill psychiatry professor and chair of the Cross Cultural Roundtable on Security.
Lashley said she believes Montreal police are making an honest effort to address racial profiling — but miss the mark in many areas including training programs, hiring visible minorities, funding outreach programs, and transparency.
"The police don't understand the lives of the people they're policing," Lashley said. "They have difficulty putting themselves in the shoes of the person standing in front of them,"
The report was based on a survey of more than 150 officers and a dozen in-person interviews.
Lashley said police officers told her half-day sensitivity training programs they received were not enough.
"A lot of them felt that it was inadequate," she said. "Some said that they hadn't had anything formally since they left CEGEP. A half-day training, 10 years ago or whatever it was — these things have got to be renewed."
Some officers sought training programs online on their own because they said they felt the training from Montreal police had little to offer, she added.
"A lot of it is 'check the box' type thing. There's nobody putting you into an experiential situation," she said.
Complaints not tracked
The report found that Montreal police don't have a centralized record of the number of racial profiling complaints, something that was recommended in the coroner's report looking into Fredy Villanueva's death four years ago.
Some complaints go to the police ethics commission while others to go to the Human Rights Commission, said Lashley.
"I don't know if there's any way, the way things are set up right now, to get a full overview of the data," she said. "You need a way to pull all that together."
Lashley also noted Montreal police's ongoing challenge in recruiting visible minority officers.
In 2015, only seven per cent of officers were visible minorities while Statistics Canada found visible minorities make up 32 per cent of the city's population.
Successful programs cut
The report found that police programs that were successful in building bridges with visible minorities were underappreciated and underfunded.
Some, such as a sports program involving officers and young people in Montreal North, have also been cut.
"If you don't have the money I guess you have to cut somewhere — but the SPVM has got to go and make that case and say 'we need a better relationship with the community you've got to give us that money,'" she said.
Lashley said little gestures like this — what she called "soft policing" — may not get a lot of attention, but they make a big difference.
A civilian oversight body to help set police objectives and priorities, such as the police services board in Toronto, could help address the problem, she added.
But she said overall police officers need to get to know the city better.
"We want them to come to our festivals," Lashley said. "We want them to come learn about our meals, come learn about our customs."
"Don't just come into our neighbourhood when there's police work to be done. Come and spend time with us."
Mayor promises action
The report, which was completed in June 2015, was only made public recently.
Mayor Valérie Plante said Thursday things will change under her new administration.
"It's now our duty to do a thorough follow-up because it's important for Montrealers to feel safe, whoever they are," Plante said.
Montreal police say they are currently analyzing the recommendations from the report and will "see how to integrate them in the next plan with the goal of improving our polices practices and to combat social and racial profiling."
Cultural shift needed
While Lashley believes police efforts are sincere, she said an incident from her own life a few weeks ago shows that a major cultural shift still needs to happen.
She said she greeted police officers a few weeks ago at coffee shop and they didn't respond.
"I thought to myself: 'Does it cost you anything to say good morning?' This could have been the beginning of you making a connection with a community member," she said.
They should have been happy a black woman is reaching out to them, she added.
"Nobody's yelling at you," she said. "I'm treating you as another human being. I'm reaching out to you."