Judge OKs 'historic' racial profiling class action against City of Montreal
Lawyer for Black Coalition of Quebec believes lawsuit will open door to change within city's police force
Alleged victims of racial profiling by Montreal police have been authorized to proceed with a class-action lawsuit against the City of Montreal.
Jacky-Éric Salvant, a lawyer for the Black Coalition of Quebec, which launched the lawsuit, called the development "historic."
In an interview, he said it "opened the door" to change within the SPVM.
Quebec Superior Court Justice André Prévost gave the lawsuit the go-ahead in a decision issued Aug. 7.
The court will decide the level of financial compensation if the lawsuit is successful.
The lead plaintiff is Alexandre Lamontagne, a man of Haitian origin who claims he was wrongfully detained by the SPVM.
Lamontagne said he was outside a nightclub in Old Montreal in August 2017, looking at his phone, when police officers started yelling at him.
He was ticketed as well as charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of justice. The charges were dropped a year later.
And that, he said, wasn't even the first time he had been racially profiled.
"At a certain [point], racial profiling has to stop. They can't be stopping you just for the colour of your skin," Lamontagne said.
A 'fundamentally important' decision
In the decision, the judge points out the SPVM has taken several measures to address racial profiling, including drafting strategic plans and research reports. The decision says such measures demonstrate Lamontagne's experience isn't unique.
"Rather, they validate the hypothesis that Montreal police officers engage in systemic racial profiling," Prévost wrote.
Dan Philip, president of the Black Coalition of Quebec, said the decision is "fundamentally important" for the black community.
"We have been crying for justice for quite some time — more than 40 years," he said.
"We have many people who have been killed, who have been abused by the police and it is difficult for us to get justice."
Who is eligible?
The class action is open to anyone who, as a result of a "proactive intervention," was stopped, arrested or detained without justification and was racially profiled or had their personal or Charter rights violated.
Those who experienced physical harm by police between Aug. 14, 2017 and Jan. 11, 2019 are eligible, as well as those non-physical harm between July 11, 2018 and Jan. 11, 2019.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the Black Coalition said it believes the lawsuit will help reduce instances of "abuse of power and racial profiling."
Anyone who believes they fit the above criteria can file a complaint at the coalition's office or by phone.
A long-standing problem
The judgment states the city doesn't deny racial profiling exists but also doesn't believe a class action lends itself to addressing the practice because each case is different.
Montreal police declined to comment Monday on the class-action decision, saying the case was before the courts. City hall also declined to comment.
Racial profiling has been a long-standing problem at the SPVM, anti-racism activists say.
Last week, for instance, a black man accused Montreal police of racial profiling after he was fined for drinking and driving. He says he was simply taking out his recycling.
In a strategic plan made public last December, police promised to track cases of racial profiling, better train police officers, increase community outreach and hire more minorities.
with files from Alison Northcott and Matt D'Amours