Montreal

Judge OKs 'historic' racial profiling class action against City of Montreal

Quebec Superior Court Justice André Prévost gave the lawsuit, which was filed by the Black Coalition of Quebec, the go-ahead in a decision issued Aug. 7.

Lawyer for Black Coalition of Quebec believes lawsuit will open door to change within city's police force

Verdun resident Alexandre Lamontagne, the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit, says police racially profiled him in 2017. The charges against him were eventually dropped. (CBC)

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.

Dan Philip says he hopes the lawsuit will allow people to feel like the police can't keep violating their rights 'with impunity.' (CBC)

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."

He said about 150 people have signed up to be a part of the class action so far.
Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron was on hand for the unveiling of a plan to curb racial profiling late last year. Now, his police service is facing a lawsuit. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

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

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