Racial profiling trial debates power of Quebec police to make random car stops
Lawyers argue that being able to pull drivers over for no reason is unconstitutional
Joseph-Christopher Luamba told a Montreal court on Monday that when he sees a police car while driving, he starts getting ready to pull over.
In the 18 months after he got his driver's licence in March 2018, Luamba said he was stopped by police around 10 times for no specific reason. He said he was driving a car during about half the stops and was a passenger in another person's car during the other police stops.
Those traffic stops are at the heart of a lawsuit he filed against the Canadian and Quebec governments, which began in a Montreal courtroom on Monday.
Luamba, who is Black, said he believes he was racially profiled during the traffic stops — none of which resulted in a ticket — and he is seeking to have a common law rule that allows Canadian police to stop drivers for no reason to be declared unconstitutional.
"I was frustrated," he told the court. "Why was I stopped? I followed the rules; I didn't commit any infractions."
Luamba, 22, said he was nervous during the interactions with police.
Lawyers for Luamba and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which has intervener status in the case, told Superior Court Judge Michel Yergeau that the power of police to randomly stop drivers, outside of drunk driving checkpoints, is unconstitutional and enables racial profiling.
Mike Simeon, who is representing Luamba, said during his opening arguments that the situation has changed since the Supreme Court of Canada, in a 1990 decision, upheld the power of police to make random traffic stops. Racial profiling is now recognized as a serious issue, he said.
"A growing number of studies, of reports, clearly show us the size of the problem," Simeon said.
He said the stops violate the right not to be detained and the right to know why one is being detained.
In several incidents, Luamba testified, police did not give him an explanation for why they pulled him over until they were ready to let him go.
Simeon said Black people, particularly young Black men, are more likely to be targeted for random stops than others are.
Luamba said that when he spoke to his friends about the interactions with police, his Black friends told him they were used to random stops, while white friends were "stunned" by how frequently he is stopped.
"For some people, it's completely unknown to be stopped for no reason," he said.
Lawyers for the Canadian and Quebec governments argued that the Supreme Court was right to uphold the rule allowing random stops, which they say is an important tool for fighting drunk driving.
Ian Demers, a lawyer representing the attorney general of Canada, said the federal government is aware that racial profiling exists and that legal means exist to fight it. He said the power to make random stops is not intended to permit racial profiling.
Luamba testified that he was stopped both while driving and while he was a passenger in vehicles driven by Black friends. Four stops were included in Luamba's initial court filings.
During a cross-examination by Quebec government lawyer Michel Deom, Luamba said that in each of the times he was stopped while driving, he was in a vehicle belonging to someone else or in a rental car. He said that in each of those occasions, police accepted his explanation for why he was driving someone else's car and let him go after a few minutes.
Deom asked Luamba how many times he was stopped when he was driving a car he owned, and Luamba said he'd been stopped three times for speeding. Luamba owned his own car between August 2020 and August 2021.
The lawsuit, which is expected to last a month, continues on Tuesday.
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.