Black people about 3 times more likely than whites to be stopped by Repentigny police, report says

The group of researchers who found that Montreal police disproportionately targeted Black and Indigenous people during street checks now say police in Repentigny, Que., have a similar problem.

Black people in Repentigny even more likely to be stopped at night, report says

A report from a group of independent researchers found that Repentigny police are about three times more likely to stop a Black resident than a white resident. (Mathieu Wagner/Radio-Canada)

In 2019, a group of researchers found that Black and Indigenous people are disproportionately targeted for police checks in Montreal.

As it turns out, police in Repentigny, Que., have a similar problem.

In their latest report, the same group of experts concluded that Black residents in Repentigny — which is located just east of Montreal — were two-and-a-half to three times more likely to be stopped by local police than their white counterparts.

"The data show that it's [even] more disproportionate when you're looking at what happens at night," said Victor Armony, a sociology professor at l'Université du Québec à Montréal. Armony is also a candidate for Projet Montréal in the upcoming municipal elections.

The report lends credence to the frustration, concerns, and fears expressed by many members of Repentigny's Black community who feel targeted by local law enforcement — feelings that appeared to reach a peak last month after police gunned down 37-year-old Jean René Junior Olivier.

At the time of the shooting, Olivier was going through a mental health crisis.

The killing, along with several racial profiling complaints in recent years, put the local police force under heavy scrutiny.

The researchers collected data on police checks in Repentigny from 2016 to 2019.

They compared that data with the size of different racial and ethnic groups as well as the number of crimes committed by residents from those groups.

Their work from two years ago showed that Montreal police were four to five times more likely to stop a Black or Indigenous person than a white person.

Dozens of people gathered in Repentigny last month for a vigil, after police shot and killed Jean René Junior Olivier. ( Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC)

Officers don't understand systemic racism, report says

The researchers also interviewed 12 Repentigny police officers, asking them questions about how they do their work and their interactions with Black residents.

All of them said they did not believe racism was an issue within Repentigny police, the report states. 

Officers told the researchers that a small group of individuals are taking advantage of a "media appetite" for issues related to racism especially if it can "sully the image of police," according to the report.

Based on the data and the officers' interviews, the researchers concluded that most police officers don't understand the notions of racial profiling, racism or even systemic racism.

The main problem, the report says, is their inability to understand that profiling or racism can come from unconscious biases, not just intent. 

"The massive denial of racism allegations by the officers is largely explained by their narrow understanding of what racism is," the report reads.

"When police officers hear about an accusation of racism, what they understanding is [they're accused of] intentionally targeting some communities more than others."

This misunderstanding, the report says, contributes to a cycle in which Black residents feel targeted by police, and officers feel unfairly accused by Black residents. 

The city of Repentigny, Que., a suburb located just east of Montreal has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years due to accusations that its police force racially profiles Black residents. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Repentigny police vow to show 'care and empathy'

The report issued four recommendations for the Repentigny police department, including working to strengthen relationships with different cultural groups in the city as well as doing a better job of explaining notions of profiling, racism and systemic racism to its officers.

On Thursday, the city of Repentigny released a statement outlining a five-year action plan to build better relations between local police and the city's Black community.

"With this plan, the Repentigny police service commits to becoming an agent of change within its community," the statement read. 

"With new practices based on care and empathy, as well as interventions free from racism or discrimination, they aim to build a tighter and stronger community."

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For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.