Number of tickets issued to Montreal's homeless has skyrocketed in last 30 years, report finds

Montreal police are resorting to social and racial profiling of the city's homeless population, according to a report, and the number have fines handed out to people who live on the street have skyrocketed in recent years as a result.

Researchers analyzed more than 50,000 tickets issued to people experiencing homelessness

A new report finds that Montreal police and inspectors with the city's transit authority socially and racially profile members of the homeless population. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Over the years, Montreal police have socially and racially profiled people experiencing homelessness, and the number of tickets given to them has skyrocketed as a result, according to a report.

Five researchers, including some from Université de Montreal, Université de Sherbrooke and Ottawa University, analyzed more than 50,000 tickets issued to members of the city's homeless population between 2012 and 2019. The tickets all had homeless shelters and centres listed as the address of the person being fined.

The researchers found an "alarming" trend, with more than double the amount of fines handed out in 2017 (9,580) compared to 2014 (3,841).

The homeless population "receives close to 40 per cent of the fines issued in Montreal," the report's summary says.

The report concludes that, in spite of several public declarations from the city and the SPVM in recent years that condemn all forms of profiling, the issue has gotten worse.

The number of fines given to people experiencing homelessness in 2018 (8,493) was eight times higher than the total given out in 1994 (1,054). 

"There's no way we're going to police our way out of homelessness," said Marie-Eve Sylvestre, one of the study's authors and a criminal law professor at the University of Ottawa. "We have to put more social services and social assistance in place."

Quebec is nearly two weeks into a four-week overnight curfew that is worrying advocates about its effects on the city's homeless. The body of a 51-year-old man was discovered in a portable toilet last Sunday just steps away from a drop-in centre. 

Many of the fines analyzed by the research group have to do with a municipal bylaw regarding public intoxication.

The report calls for the end of social and racial profiling and makes12 recommendations, including repealing the bylaws used to punish people dealing with homelessness, collecting and reporting ethnic and race-based data and instituting a moratorium on tickets to the homeless.

Even without access to such data available, researchers say they were still able to highlight how Indigenous people living on the street are especially targeted.

They zeroed in on cases where the person ticketed provided the address of a resource centre for the homeless with a predominantly Indigenous clientele.

A man is stopped by police as he walks along a street in Montreal during curfew hours. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

"We find that four per cent of all of the tickets that were issued were issued to Indigenous people, and among those, 25 per cent were issued to Indigenous women experiencing homelessness," said Sylvestre. 

"We know that's only the tip of the iceberg, given the limits of our methodology."

There are about 13,000 Indigenous people in Montreal. That's less than one percent of the the city's population.

In response to the research findings, the First Peoples Justice Center of Montreal (FPJCM) is urging the city to stop ticketing the homeless and defund the SPVM in order to invest in community programs. The group collaborated with the researchers for this study.

"Our response at the FPJCM is to ask the City of Montreal and the SPVM to take steps towards true accountability in addressing ongoing forms of systemic racism that Indigenous community members experience on a daily basis," the group said in a statement.

WIth files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak