News  City bylaws violate rights of homeless

Commission des droits de la personne calls for police to end harassment

Reports issued at Quebec’s National Assembly earlier this month demanded that the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) cease their frequent harassment of the homeless, and called on the City to re-evaluate policies that allow for over-ticketing of the group.

“We received complaints that the police were giving tickets to the homeless for minor infractions that regular citizens do not get ticketed for,” said Paul Eid, who co-authored the CDPDJ’s report.“Instead of the police applying the law equally to all citizens, they socially profile – targeting specific groups like the homeless, prostitutes, and people who appear to be poor and enforce those laws to them in a much stricter manner.”

Eid cited a study conducted by the Commission des droits de la personne, the SPVM, the City, provincial government, as well as grassroots organizations between 2004-2007, which found that 30 per cent of tickets issued by the police for minor offenses were given to the homeless, even though they represent only one per cent of the population.

The CDPDJ also found that two City bylaws are discriminatory against the homeless; a bylaw which outlaws dogs being brought into certain parks, and another which prohibits access to certain parks after they have closed. Homeless youth frequently stay in parks and often keep dogs.

The CDPDJ has asked that the City repeal the two by-laws, and that the SPVM improve training for its police officers.

According to Eid, the Commission des droits de la personne and some grassroots organizations decided to investigate the issue after the City failed to investigate the possibility of discrimination.

“The police have always denied the claim that certain bylaws or standards are responsible for this problem of over-ticketing, which only causes the homeless people to fall into a cycle they cannot get out of. They cannot pay the fines so they are sent to detention centers for minor offenses and feel like they have no way out,” Eid said.

The SPVM argued however, that the frequent ticketing of the homeless is not unfair treatment, but an indication that homeless people commit more infractions. Denis Desroches, assistant director of the SPVM, said that the police give warnings, but that sometimes they are forced to issue tickets.

However, Eid said that his findings indicated that the police did not always follow proper procedure. “[The police] say they give warnings [before tickets] but that’s not what we found out. From our many testimonies, we have found that the warning approach is not really applied. It’s a legitimate reason to fine citizens for infractions, but we have to make sure the police are applying the law when there is a valid reason to do so,” Eid said.

Geoff Kelley, president of the Commission de la santé, said that ticketing was not the way to solve the problems of the homeless.

“We have to find a a way for people to respect each other’s space. The police need help as well. They’re often called upon to be referees when there are disputes between the homeless and other citizens – often business owners and merchants – and they are not the best person for that job. We recommend that other groups, like social workers and health care workers, work together to find a better solution,” said Kelley.

Although the Commission de la santé does not have the power to enforce recommendations, they do intend to pursue the issue until a policy change is implemented.

“The short-term plan right now is to wait to hear from the Minister of Social Affairs, who said she will have a plan based on our recommendations by Christmas,” said Kelley. “In the long-term, we want to pursue a governmental policy change on dealing with the homeless, to ensure the policy and different social services are all coordinated in dealing with this problem.”