Racial profiling cases winding its way through Quebec courts

A Quebec man who was issued a ticket for accusing a police officer of being a racist after being stopped was acquitted by a municipal court judge, the latest in a series of cases dealing with racial profiling that recently wound its way through Quebec courts.

Over the past four months, a Montreal woman was acquitted by a Montreal municipal judge who concluded she was the victim of racial profiling, a damning study revealed that black, Indigenous and Arab people are far more likely to be stopped by Montreal police, and a racial profiling class action seeking $171 million in damages was certified by Quebec Superior Court.

“This is inadmissible in a society governed by the rule of law,” said Papa-Mike Diomande, a Montreal lawyer who is one of the driving forces behind the class action. “These are not isolated cases. This is a constant stream.”

In fact Montreal police do stop people from visible minorities far more frequently than they stop white people, according to an exhaustive report by academics that was commissioned by the police force itself. Data compiled from tens of thousands of incident reports from 2014 to 2017 revealed that black and Indigenous people are four-to-five more times likely to be intercepted by Montreal police than white people. The number of so-called street checks by Montreal police officers also skyrocketed during this period, from less than 19,000 in 2014 to more than 45,000 in 2017, even though the level of crime remained constant.

The independent report stopped short of asserting that Montreal police were engaged in racial profiling, but found “the existence of systemic bias in the treatment of certain racialized minorities” by police authorities. “I accept all of the report’s findings with humility and commit to take concrete actions to address the recommendations that come from it,” said Montreal police chief Sylvain Carron.

The authors of the report, sociologists Victor Armony and Mariam Hassaoui as well as criminologist Massimiliano Mulone, recommend that police implement a policy that will spell out when police should intercept people. The academics also recommend that police improve data collection, produce an annual report on racial profiling, and include measures against racial profiling in the police force’s practices, policies and training.

The report, issued on October, will prove to be invaluable for the racial profiling class action, said Diomande. “When we launched the class action, we did not know the issue was being studied,” added Diomande, who is piloting the suit with Montreal lawyer Jacky-Éric Salvant.  “But with the publication of the report, the class action becomes even more pertinent. What stands out from the report is that police are conducting cynical racial profiling, stopping visible minorities for no reason, and the situation is becoming worse.”

Launched by the Black Coalition of Quebec, Quebec Superior Court Justice André Prévost certified the class action suit against the City of Montreal on behalf of citizens who allege were unfairly arrested, detained and racially profiled by the city’s police force between August 2017 and January 2019. In a 14-page ruling in Ligue des Noirs du Québec c. Ville de Montréal 2019 QCCS 3319, Justice Prévost noted that evidence introduced by the Black Coalition reveal, prime facie, that “racial profiling is still a reality” within the Montreal police force in spite of actions taken over the past three decades.

Justice Prévost also pointed out that “individual claims by members will eventually require special evidence” but that is not “sufficient motive” to conclude that the class action does not meet the requirements set out in the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure for class action authorization. Among the questions the class action will address are whether police engaged in discriminatory conduct based on racial profiling, thereby in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. It will also have to determine whether those faults by Montreal police consisted of abuse of procedure, whether those incidents caused harm to members of the class, and whether they should be held liable for those damages, and what amount the of the damages should be.

“For the longest time people complained before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, but that has not led to changes,” Diomande. “It’s like trying to break down a wall with firecrackers. We are now using dynamite. The monetary damages, while part of the solution, is not the most important thing about the class action. The most important thing is respect, that racial profiling stops because it runs against the Canadian and Quebec Charter. We want to give a voice to those don’t have one.”

Diomande points to the case involving the class representative, a Montrealer of Haitian origin. Alexandre Lamontagne alleges that he was standing on a street checking his cellphone on August 2017 when he was questioned by two police officers. He was arrested and charged with obstructing police work and assault with the intention of resisting arrest. The incident was captured on video. A year later, the charges were dropped.

The case involving Yvens Beaudin, a man who was stopped by police while driving in the City of Laval, points to yet another example of a member of the black community who suffered harassment and profiling at the hands of police. On February 2019 Beaudin was stopped by two police officers ostensibly because the car he was driving was registered to a woman. The female passenger showed the officers the car registration and told them that Beaudin was driving with her permission. Beaudin then told the officers he did not understand why they were stopped, and said he believed it was because he was black and a victim of racial profiling. He also told one of the officers that he was a racist. Beaudin was handed a ticket.

According to the municipality’s bylaw it is prohibited to verbally abuse or insult police officers during the course of their duties. But Laval municipal court Judge Chantal Paré threw out the ticket and held that the officers’ justification for stopping Beaudin was dubious.

“It’s not because a police officer has a legal obligation to behave in accordance with his code of ethics that anything a citizen says to him that could offend him is, de facto, an insult justifying the issuance of a ticket,” Judge Paré in Ville de Laval c. Beaudin 2019 QCCM 166. “That an individual tells a police officer on duty that he is racially profiling and is racist (those) are comments that are free of the usual grossness and vulgarity associated with expressions that are reprehensible.”

Judge Paré concluded that freedom of expression is not “abolished” because a citizen expresses his opinion during a police intervention, by expressing his disagreement.

According to Montreal human rights lawyer Julius Grey, it is “encouraging that freedom of expression is given its importance and is not sacrificed for other causes as so often happens in Canada.”

While Judge Paré hesitated to conclude that Laval police officers engaged in racial profiling, Montreal municipal court Judge Randall Richmond had no hesitation in doing so while dismissing charges against a woman who was pulled over in 2017 while driving her father’s car. “The police intervention had all the appearance of a fishing expedition and arbitrary detention motivated by racial or sexual profiling or both,” said Judge Richmond in Ville de Montréal c. Baptiste 2019 QCCM 131.

This story was originally published in The Lawyer’s Daily.

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