Repentigny Black community says police action plan to combat racism beats around the bush

The Repentigny police service's 13-page action plan makes no mention of anti-Black racism or systemic racism.

'We don't see ourselves reflected in this document'

Marie-Mireille Bence, whose son was fatally shot by Repentigny police in August, joined community leaders in criticizing the SVPR's action plan, calling it evasiveness toward anti-Black racism. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Nearly two months after her son was fatally shot by police, Marie-Mireille Bence is seeking answers about police's reasons for killing him.

"No one from the SPVR [Repentigny police service] told me what happened," she said. "How can we have trust without transparency and accountability?"

Police shot Jean-René Junior Olivier outside his family's home in Repentigny, Que., a Montreal suburb, after Bence called 911 for help transporting him to hospital on Aug. 1.

In response to the incident and at least nine other human rights complaints filed against the SPVR since 2017, the force announced an action plan on Sept. 16 that is expected to roll out over the next five years.

But local groups advocating for Repentigny's Black residents are wholly disappointed with it. 

At a news conference Sunday, Bence and leaders of the city's Black community groups denounced the plan for not explicitly mentioning anti-Black racism and systemic racism.

SPVR police chief Hélène Dion says the plan aims to create "organizational change," and extends beyond addressing racial profiling practices in the force.

"It was developed with the realities and experiences of our officers in mind as well as the concerns and realities of organizations on our territory'', Dion said in a statement.

Pierre Richard Thomas, president of Lakay Media, criticized the SPVR's action plan for citing "allegations of racial profiling" twice in the document as though the issue were an "imaginary problem" in the suburb, he said.

"The Black residents of Repentigny— who are the most affected by racial profiling — are made invisible," he said. "This voluntary and collective denial encourages police to perpetuate the practice of racial profiling."

'It doesn't even mention us'

Pierre Yvenert, president of Regroupement des résidents noirs de Repentigny, says the action plan beats around the bush despite studies showing the SPVR is three times more likely to target Black people.

Researchers from UQAM and Université de Montréal tasked with investigating racial profiling in the city's police force found Black people represent 17 per cent of cases, although they only make up seven per cent of Repentigny's population.

"We don't see ourselves reflected in this document," Yvenert said. "It doesn't even mention us, only 'social groups' and 'the community,'" he said.

Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, says the action plan excludes Black people 'in its prognosis and treatment.' (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

The action plan's omission of key issues hurts its credibility, says Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR).

"We're muddling the core issue, which is anti-Black racism, with diversity, equity and inclusion challenges," Niemi said. "Finally, we don't see any space for Black people in the development, implementation and evaluation of the measures." 

Bence plans to file a complaint to Quebec's Human Rights Commission and the Commissaire à la déontologie policière about systemic racism in the force.

"I hope my son, who was sacrificed … I hope it'll bear fruit so he didn't die for nothing," she said.

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


with files from Kwabena Oduro and Holly Cabrera