5 Quebec City police officers suspended after video shows violent treatment of Black youth

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details. Quebec City's police department says it's suspended five of its officers who were involved in the violent detention of two young Black people over the weekend.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

A video that has been shared on social media shows a man in a police uniform shoving snow in the face of a Black young person who is on the ground being arrested in downtown Quebec. The city's police force said Tuesday it has suspended five officers in connection with video footage from that night. (Instagram)

The Quebec City police force said Tuesday it has suspended five officers who were involved in violent altercations with two young Black people outside a downtown nightclub on the weekend.

The officers are suspended with pay as part of an "evolving investigation," into an incident that took place outside the Dagobert nightclub on Grande-Allée Street early Saturday morning, a Service de Police de la Ville de Québec (SPVQ) spokesperson said. 

Video footage that's been shared widely on social media show officers punching and kicking snow in the face of a young Black man while he was lying on the ground restrained. Another video shows police dragging a young Black woman through the snow. At one point an officer appears to grab her by her hair.

The young man who was detained by police has since identified himself as 18-year-old Pacifique Niyokwizera. His lawyer, Fernando Belton, told Radio-Canada that he feels his client was a victim of racial profiling.

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault has asked Quebec Police Ethics Commissioner Marc-André Dowd to investigate the actions of the police officers who were involved.

WATCH | Forceful arrest caught on video: (Warning: graphic footage)

Quebec City police forcefully arrest Black youth

2 months ago
Duration 1:00
A man in a police uniform is shown punching a young Black man. 1:00

On Tuesday, Guilbault said that while some elected officials and community leaders have asked for an independent inquiry, she feels Dowd is best suited to get to the bottom of what happened. The commissioner is an "independent, expert resource," well versed in the rules that govern police conduct in Quebec, Guilbault said.

"He can cite officers [and] require them to appear before the ethics commission, and if he thinks there's something criminal in [what happened that night] he can transfer it to the BEI, for example," she said, referring to the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, Quebec's police watchdog.

Jo-Kirby Olongbo is the Vice-President of Entrepreneurship with Le Forum Jeunesse Afro-Québécois (FJAQ), a non-profit based in Quebec City that works with Black youth across the province.

She welcomed the news of the suspensions but said she still wants to see an independent, impartial investigation.

"It's a really good first step, but we want more," she said. "We want to make sure that an independent investigation is going to be conducted by the police and every other parties [involved]. We want to make sure that Pacifique and every other victim of Saturday are going to be treated the right way."

Police brotherhood surprised

SPVQ spokesperson Sandra Dion told CBC the officers will be suspended with pay, as per the collective agreement, and the length of their suspension still hasn't been determined.

In a statement, Martine Fortier, president of the Quebec City police brotherhood (FPPVQ) said she was surprised five officers were suspended and hopes suspensions weren't politically motivated. 

"We hope that this decision does not result from political pressure, in particular from certain parties which have positioned themselves in favour of the suspension of the police officers involved as of Sunday," she said.

She said police officers have the right to "just and equal treatment" and that treatment should not be influenced by outside opinion.

Same officers, same night

Three of the officers involved in the incident were also involved in a violent clash at an Italian restaurant earlier that same evening, the SPVQ said on Tuesday.

The SPVQ says a separate internal investigation was opened into that event.

Jean-Philippe St-Laurent snapped this selfie while in hospital recovering from an altercation with Quebec City police. (Submitted by Jean-Philippe St-Laurent)

The officers are all part of a squad assigned to monitoring the city's bars, known as GRIPP. The second incident took place at the Portofino in the Sainte-Foy neighbourhood, and it too was caught on video — both surveillance cameras and cell phones.

The man overpowered by the police at Portofino, Jean-Philippe St-Laurent, has told Radio-Canada he was the victim of gratuitous violence by the police.

St-Laurent said he decided to speak to the media after seeing what happened to Niyokwizera later that evening.

He said he was sitting at a table with a dozen friends when a group of police officers from the squad entered the restaurant at around 10 p.m. and began checking for vaccine passports. Proof of double vaccination is required to access non-essential services in Quebec.

When the police arrived at St-Laurent's table, they arrested one member of the group because he was not allowed in the establishment. St-Laurent told Radio-Canada he argued with police, saying they had no right to intervene.

After the resulting fight, St-Laurent found himself in hospital being treated for injuries received in the scuffle.

Radio-Canada has reviewed surveillance camera footage that seems to show St-Laurent was not being aggressive to police when he was suddenly knocked to the ground and struck by officers' feet and fists.

WATCH | Police altercation with restaurant client: (Warning: graphic footage) 

Police officers pin down restaurant patron

2 months ago
Duration 1:39
Quebec City police officers violently restrain a restaurant patron. 1:39

That's when people started filming. One video shows St-Laurent pinned to the ground by officers as they hit and kick him several times. Glass debris is strewn on the floor and furniture is upturned.

St-Laurent said he did start resisting because his survival instinct took over when he felt defenceless on the ground, unable to avoid the officers' blows.

He said he was overwhelmed by the aggressiveness of the police.

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.