Black, Indigenous people 4 to 5 times more likely than whites to be stopped by Montreal police

A new report by three independent researchers finds there is systemic bias in street checks by Montreal police but stops short of concluding officers are guilty of racial profiling.

Police chief, mayor 'shocked' by findings, while civil rights advocates say it's time to talk openly of racism

Montreal Police Chief Sylvain Caron said he accepts, with humility, a report criticizing the disproportionate number of visible minorities stopped by Montreal police. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

A report from three independent researchers found that there is systemic bias in street checks done by Montreal police, but stops short of concluding officers are guilty of racial profiling.

The report, commissioned by the City of Montreal, was authored by UQAM sociologist Victor Armony and Université de Montréal criminologist Massimiliano Mulone, as well as Université TÉLUQ sociologist Mariam Hassaoui. 

The authors combed through data collected between 2014 and 2017 during police "street checks" — when officers stop people who have not necessarily committed an infraction. 

They found that Indigenous people and Black people were four to five times more likely than white people to be stopped by police.

Indigenous women were particularly overrepresented: they were 11 times more likely to be stopped by police than white women.

Young Arab people between the ages of 15 and 24 were four times more likely than white people of the same age to be targeted for a street check.

The researchers' task was limited to tallying up the numbers available and breaking the data down by race. 

Still, they went so far as to conclude that "even though it is not up to us to determine whether racial profiling exists, it is obvious that the results of our analysis reveal disparities and disproportionalities, which suggest the presence of systemic biases."

Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron said he has asked the authors to return for a second mandate, to take a deeper look at why his officers stop more people from visible minority groups than white people.

No policy on street checks

In their report, the researchers also criticize the Montreal police service (SPVM) for having no policy outlining when and why someone should be stopped for a street check.

They say the absence of a rule leaves the door open to "troubling dynamics." 

Caron said his force is working on a policy to define when street checks are justified, which the SPVM said will be in effect by March 2020.

The report makes five recommendations: 

  1. The SPVM should create a street check policy.
  2. The SPVM should produce and publish an annual statistical report that keeps track of how often Indigenous people and visible minorities are stopped by police.
  3. The SPVM should develop additional procedures to monitor racial profiling.
  4. The SPVM should evaluate every program, practice and plan by its impact on racial profiling (negative or positive). 
  5. The SPVM should continue to train police officers on preventing systemic discrimination, while focusing in particular on the Indigenous population. 
UQAM sociologist Victor Armony was one of the authors of the report, which looked at the race of people stopped for street checks by Montreal police over a three-year period. (Ivanoh Demers / Radio-Canada)

Police chief 'shocked' by report 

Caron says he was "very surprised" by the report's findings, however, he takes them seriously.

Advocacy groups, some of them maybe have agendas. That's fine. But we want to go with something factual.- André Durocher, Montreal police spokesperson

Asked why he was so surprised, as civil rights advocates have tried to shine a light on cases of alleged racial profiling by police for over a decade, Caron reminded reporters he has only been on the job since last December.

SPVM spokesperson, André Durocher, elaborated further.

"You have to understand that advocacy groups, some of them maybe have agendas. That's fine. But we want to go with something factual. The report is factual. We'll address it in a factual way. The measures we'll take will be based on facts and not opinions," he said. 

The SPVM chief said his force has fully accepted the report and its conclusions. 

"We are obviously very concerned by these results. I am very worried," Caron said. 

He vowed to take quick, concrete and transparent action to reduce racial disparities. 

Among those measures, the SPVM said it is setting up a team specialized in intervention with people from cultural communities and those with special needs, due to be established by next March.

'They have to accept to use the R-word': CRARR

Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women's Shelter in Montreal, said she doesn't understand why anyone is surprised by the findings. 

"I'm glad that this report came out, and I'm glad that people are shocked, because hopefully that means they'll do something," she said. "Let's see." 

Fo Niemi, the executive director of CRARR, has been calling on the SPVM to take action against racial profiling. (CBC)

One of Montreal's most outspoken civil rights advocates, Fo Niemi, said this report is a step towards recognizing systemic racism exists. 

Niemi, the executive director of the Center for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), said it's time to change the mindset of authorities. 

"They have to accept to use the R-word, the systemic racism concept," he said. To address racism, people need to first be able to talk about it, he said.

Mayor Valerie Plante 'shocked' by results 

Mayor Valerie Plante said in a tweet she was "shocked" by the results of the research, which she called "very worrisome."

Plante called on police to follow all recommendations in the report.

"We can see that there is clearly a fundamental problem that leads to systemic discrimination," she said.

Plante said she wants all Montrealers, regardless of their origin or status, to know they have the right to fair treatment by police.