Police forces fail when not reflective of diverse population, activists say

If police forces don't reflect the diversity of the population, they can't properly do their job, says Mahad Al Mustaqim, who works with at-risk youth on Montreal's West Island.

Statistics compiled by CBC show Quebec police forces overwhelmingly white

Mahad Al Mustaqim says police officers fail to act as role models if they do not properly reflect the community they are serving. (CBC)

Mahad Al Mustaqim says police officers were seen as the enemy while growing up in Pierrefonds, figures of authority who were white and unaware of the problems his community were facing.

Al Mustaqim, 27, joined a West Island street gang when he was a teenager. He was arrested for the first time when he was 15 years old.

"We didn't have a role model at the time to help us understand that this life, this pattern would bring us trouble," Al Mustaqim said, who after several run-ins with the law now serves as role model for at-risk youth.

He says more diversity among Quebec police forces would help establish trust between officers and communities. 

Numbers compiled by CBC News show that police forces in the greater Montreal region are lagging dramatically in their hiring of visible minorities.

Al Mustaqim says it's not surprising to learn that police forces are overwhelmingly white. Still, he was shocked to learn that in nine years, the Sûreté du Québec hired just five officers from ethnic or visible minorities, compared to 730 white officers.

"I think that if we have more visible minority officers, it will help [the minority community] to feel more safe, more protected," he said.

It's hard for them to associate and to feel a bond.- Will Prosper, Montreal North community organizer

"They will feel like they trust officers."

Will Prosper, a former RCMP police officer and a community organizer in Montreal North, says the lack of diversity in forces is a huge problem.

"It's hard for them to associate and to feel a bond," he said.

"It's going to bring more situations where they will arrest the person, they will be more forceful. This is troubling for me."

Racial profiling still a problem

Al Mustaqim says racial profiling is still an issue, something that's not helped when the majority of officers are white.

He says that just last week, he was hanging out with friends on a Pierrefonds sidewalk when police officers stopped them, asking for identification. He believes the only reason officers stopped was because they were black.

Prosper says that in Montreal, the problem exists.

Will Prosper says racial profiling remains a big issue, especially in Montreal. (CBC)
"Racial profiling is a fact. It's something that happens a lot in the city," he said.

"Especially for young black males."

Former Montreal police chief Marc Parent admitted it was an issue last year.

"We do have a racial profiling problem," he told CBC. "It's not the majority, but we have to work on that every day."


Sarah Leavitt


Sarah Leavitt is a multimedia journalist with CBC who loves hearing people's stories. Tell her yours: or on Twitter @SarahLeavittCBC.

with files from Benjamin Shingler