Black community hopeful racial profiling lawsuit will lead to change in Montreal

Longtime activist Dan Philip believes the class-action lawsuit approved last week by a Quebec judge will help address the problem of racial profiling within the SPVM.

'A day of victory, but also a day of reflection,' says longtime activist Dan Philip

Dan Philip says that with each case of racial profiling, the city's black community loses confidence in the justice system. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

In more than 40 years of activism, Dan Philip has heard countless stories of black Montrealers being wrongfully detained, assaulted or worse at the hands of Montreal police.

He is hopeful the class-action lawsuit approved last week by a Quebec judge will help address racial profiling by the SPVM.

"It is for us a day of victory, but also a day of reflection. We have been struggling to obtain this kind of justice that we see today," Philip said Tuesday at the Black Coalition of Quebec, a small office building on Décarie Boulevard that serves as his organization's headquarters.

"I can tell you that over time, we were losing confidence in the justice system. But we must always have hope. Without hope, we die."

Quebec Superior Court Justice André Prévost gave the lawsuit the go-ahead in a decision issued last Friday. The court will decide the level of financial compensation to be paid out if the lawsuit is successful.

Hundreds could join lawsuit, coalition says

The Black Coalition is urging anyone eligible who has been subject to racial profiling to come forward with their own story. 

Already, Philip said at Tuesday's news conference, about 150 people have signed up to be a part of the class action and more have reached out since the decision. 

Jean-Claude Yves, a 55-year-old Montrealer from Haiti, is among those putting his name forward.

He said he was wrongfully detained near a Maxi grocery store on Masson Street in 2017 after police said he fit the description of a shoplifting suspect.

He was ordered to drop his bag and open it to police. The only thing they found inside was the Bible, he said. The ordeal required him to go to the local police station afterward and explain himself. 

"It was stressful," said Yves. "It's racist."

Jean-Claude Yves says he plans to join the class-action lawsuit against the City of Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

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 who experienced non-physical harm between July 11, 2018 and Jan. 11, 2019.

Philip wouldn't say how much money he expects the plaintiffs would get if they win the lawsuit. 

"A judge will decide the amount," he said.

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.

Both the City of Montreal and Montreal police have declined to comment on the class-action decision, saying it's now before the courts.

Human rights activists have for years pressed the SPVM to address the problem of racial profiling.

Police promised in a strategic plan released last year to track cases of racial profiling, better train police officers, increase community outreach and hire more minorities.


Benjamin Shingler is based in Montreal. He previously worked at The Canadian Press, Al Jazeera America and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @benshingler.


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