Montreal police to track racial profiling cases amid mounting criticism

The City of Montreal has directed its police service to track allegations of social and racial profiling as part of a series of commitments aimed at curbing the longstanding problem.

Black Coalition of Quebec pursues class-action lawsuit as city releases plan to counter profiling

Sylvain Caron, recently named Montreal's next police chief, was on hand for Tuesday's plan to curb racial profiling. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The City of Montreal has directed its police service to track allegations of social and racial profiling as part of a series of commitments aimed at curbing the longstanding problem. 

Under the plan announced Tuesday, the SPVM is supposed to compile the number of cases filed with the police ethics committee, the human rights commission and youth protection services.

They will also be required to record the number of cases where an officer is found guilty of racial or social profiling.

"I believe we're really moving forward with something much more comprehensive, and more ambitious than we've seen in the past," said Alex Norris, chair of Montreal's public security committee.

"I'm optimistic that we'll see results." 

The new plan includes a promise to better train police officers, increase community outreach and hire more minorities.

But it falls short of a number of demands from critics, who wanted to see the establishment of an independent watchdog to review the SPVM's progress, as well as more specific measures aimed at altering the behaviour of officers. 

Fo Niemi, a prominent civil rights activist and the executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said the commitments to improve education and training are positive.

He stressed, however, that clear and defined sanctions for officers who misbehave are also needed.

"I think these issues have to be very taken seriously," he said.

He said the growing anger over racial profiling in Montreal is part of a larger trend unfolding elsewhere Quebec and farther afield, including Toronto, where a new report detailed how black people were over-represented in violent interactions with police.

"The trend has been toward criminalizing and marginalizing people who are different because of skin colour. And now we have to reverse that trend."

The document, entitled the Strategic plan to support SPVM staff in the prevention of racial and social profiling 2018-2021, was made public Tuesday.

Inspector André Durocher, from the force's communications division, said that the SPVM will report progress to the city and make adjustments as necessary.

"For us, racial profiling is unacceptable," he said. "This is not an easy exercise but it is essential."

He also said that education must extend to the greater population. 

"The officers are just doing a job. They're answering a call," he said. "Everybody has a role to play in racial profiling."

The announcement comes as the Black Coalition of Quebec pursues a class-action lawsuit against Montreal police. 

Jacky-Éric Salvant, a lawyer for the non-profit group, said Tuesday he has 500 documented cases of racial profiling and is seeking $4 million in damages.

Salvant said the lawsuit will be filed in the coming days once the city has been served with court papers.

'It's all very vague'

Mayor Valérie Plante promised to address racial profiling after winning the municipal election last fall.

"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 in November 2017.

A report made public at that time found that Montreal police failed to achieve many of the objectives they set for themselves in a plan to address racial profiling five years ago.

It found that Montreal police made an honest effort to address racial profiling — but missed the mark in many areas including training programs, hiring visible minorities, funding outreach programs and transparency.

It also 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, released five years ago.

A separate study, released last week by a research group at Concordia University, found that young people from the racially diverse, low-income neighbourhood of Saint-Michel are subject to "widespread and systemic" racial profiling by Montreal police.

Philip has also filed a complaint with the police ethics commission against the Montreal officers involved in the incident, accusing them of "misconduct, abuse of power, excessive force, negligence," and obstructing a previous investigation by the commission into the matter. (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada)

Majiza Philip, who filed a lawsuit after a 2014 encounter with Montreal police left her with a broken arm, called Tuesday's plan "disappointing."

"It's all very vague things that you would think they would already be doing," Philip said.

She said her own experience fighting Montreal police and the city in court suggests they aren't taking the issue seriously.

"It's disheartening," she said.


Benjamin Shingler is based in Montreal. He previously worked at The Canadian Press, Al Jazeera America and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.

With files from Simon Nakonechny


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