Montreal police urged to make suspect descriptions more specific to avoid racial profiling

Quebec's Human Rights Commission is calling on Montreal police to set new standards for suspect descriptions after a Laval man was wrongly detained for a robbery, based on the hunt for a "black man wearing black."

'I'm tired of being treated like some 2nd-class Negro,' says Pradel Content, wrongly detained in 2014

Pradel Content filed a complaint after being searched and 'roughed up' by police in March 2014 based on a description of a black man wearing black clothes. (Steve Rukavina/CBC)

Quebec's Human Rights Commission is calling on Montreal police to set new standards for suspect descriptions to avoid racial profiling, in a ruling involving a Laval man wrongly detained for a robbery.

Pradel Content, who walks with a cane and suffers from chronic back pain, filed a complaint after being searched and "roughed up" by police in March 2014 based on a description of a black man wearing black clothes, said Fo Niemi, whose organization assisted Content in the case.

Niemi, the executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said Thursday the suspect's description was too vague, and police had no reason to act so aggressively toward Content.

"They roughed him up, in spite of the fact that obviously he said, 'It's not me; I have a cane, just be careful,'" Niemi said in an interview.

Content was released at the scene, without an apology, after police searched him and verified his identification, Niemi said.

The commission concluded he was a victim of a racial profiling and found the officers failed to consider Content's disability when he was detained.

The decision demands police pay Content $19,000 in damages. The ruling is non-binding.

The Montreal police service (SPVM) declined to comment.

Case could set 'new benchmarks'

The SPVM has a month to comply with the commission's recommendations before the case is taken to the Human Rights Tribunal, which has the power to force the city, and its police department, to pay fines.

Niemi is hoping the case will ultimately "allow the court to set new benchmarks for policing dealing with people of colour and people with disabilities."

Speaking at a news conference alongside Niemi, Content said the 2014 incident was not an anomaly. He said he has been repeatedly hassled by police.

In 2017, he filed a complaint with the commission after alleging a Laval police officer pushed and handcuffed him at a gas station, then had video of the incident deleted from his cellphone.

He said Montreal police officers should be required to wear body cameras to ensure they are held accountable.

"I'm tired of being treated like some second-class Negro," he said.

The City of Montreal recently opted not to equip officers with body cameras, citing the high cost of the equipment.

About the Author

Benjamin Shingler is currently covering the pandemic for CBC News in Montreal. He previously worked at The Canadian Press, Al Jazeera America and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. Reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter @benshingler.

With files from Steve Rukavina and Verity Stevenson


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