Actions speak louder than words, activists say, as SPVM acknowledges racism's 'systemic nature'

Montreal police issued a statement late Monday in the wake of a damning report about discrimination in the city, acknowledging the "systemic nature of racism and discrimination" and saying it will actively work to fight it. 

Montreal police release statement after report finds systemic racism across municipal services

Alain Babineau, a former RCMP officer who works with the Montreal-based Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, argues SPVM police Chief Sylvain Caron isn't equipped to make the necessary reforms to Montreal police service. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Montreal police issued a statement late Monday in the wake of a damning report about discrimination in the city, acknowledging the "systemic nature of racism and discrimination" and saying it will actively work to fight it. 

The short post on its website said the SPVM took note of all the recommendations, particularly those related directly to police.

"We reiterate that all forms of racism and discrimination are prohibited behaviours in police practices and in the administration of our service," the statement said.

It also said the SPVM would "collaborate for — and with — the population to make the necessary changes in order to live up to the trust people place in us."

For advocates who have been pressing for reform within the SPVM, such as Alain Babineau, a former RCMP officer who works with the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, the statement was not enough.

In his view, police Chief Sylvain Caron is ill-equipped to make the required reforms.

"Those are the kind of statements that I would characterize as basically meaningless, to be honest with you, because the lack of leadership of the director has clearly shown that he doesn't understand the issue, and he doesn't have the ability or competence to change the organization," Babineau said.

For its part, the Ligue des droits et libertés, a civil liberties group, accused the SPVM of being deliberately ambiguous with its wording, by avoiding saying explicitly there is systemic racism within the police force.

"How can we be reassured about the rest of things if the SPVM still lets such ambiguities hang?" asked Alexandra Pierre, the group's president, in a statement.

The organization is asking Caron to recognize "explicitly and publicly" that there is systemic racism and systemic racial profiling carried out by the SPVM and to commit to dealing with it quickly.

Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron held a news conference earlier this month, ahead of a march against police brutality and racism. A new report includes recommendations to address racial profiling within the SPVM. (Charles Contant/CBC)

Recommendations for SPVM

The SPVM's statement was released late Monday, following a report by Montreal's independent public consultation office highlighting systemic racism and discrimination across municipal institutions.

Many of the recommendations pertain to the SPVM, including a call to be more transparent with data, working with Indigenous community groups and providing an update annually on its commitment to end racial and social profiling.

At a news conference earlier this month, ahead of an anti-racism march through Montreal, Caron tried to show the SPVM was taking the issue seriously. Racism, he said, will not be tolerated within the force.

He said police will announce a policy for street checks next month, on July 8, following a report last year that found Black and Indigenous people were four and five times more likely to be stopped by police and asked to identify themselves.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante singled out the SPVM in responding to the report, saying that "given their law-enforcement power, it is clear our collective expectation of them is higher."

Mike Diomande, a lawyer representing the Ligue des noirs du Québec, said the report's publication is an important step in the fight for equality. 

"We have to keep in mind that these are words. We are waiting for action," he said. 

With files from Claire Loewen


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