In late March of this year, 23-year-old McGill student Jackie Jones was apprehended by five Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security guards just after entering Peel metro station. The guards approached Jones, who is black, while she was standing at the top of the escalators with a Hispanic male friend of hers. They asked her in French to move out of their way. They became agitated when she asked them to repeat themselves in English.
“They said ‘Move now!’ and it was a bit aggressive. I listened and was going to move on, but I told them that there is no need for the aggression. At this point they asked for my ID and were going to give me a ticket,” Jones told The Daily (“McGill student victim of racial profiling,” News, October 26). “When I started to question them about why I was receiving a ticket, one of the guards grabbed my arm and twisted it to my back. They called for three more male security guards, who slammed me onto the ground and handcuffed me.” Upon finding her McGill student card in her purse, the STM guards released Jones almost immediately. She subsequently sought assistance from the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) and filed a racial profiling complaint seeking $45,000 in moral and punitive damages with the Quebec Human Rights Commission. In August, Jones was charged for obstructing the work of civil servants, and fined $100. The preliminary hearing of her case was held Wednesday morning at Montreal’s municipal court. Now that the legal proceedings have begun, the impact of racial profiling on the McGill and Montreal communities is brought back into focus. While the McGill bubble is often seen as a safe haven, students have a different view of the rest of Montreal. One black student, who wished to remain anonymous, said that she had never experienced racial profiling or any other form of discrimination at McGill, though she explained that “it could definitely happen [in Montral]”.
“[McGill’s level of tolerance] can be chalked up to an issue of education,” said Melissa Li, a U1 Pharmacology student. “Lack of education entails closed-mindedness, which leads to discrimination and [here at McGill] people are fairly open to differences.” Li, who takes the metro every day, told The Daily about another incident of racial profiling she witnessed at Peel station over the summer: “The metro was stalled [at Peel] and there was a homeless black man sleeping on the car. All of a sudden, two intimidating-looking security guards stepped aboard and just sandwiched the man between them, before brutally dragging him onto the platform.” Indeed, the STM’s rough treatment of minorities has concerned CRARR workers for some time now. “We tend to see cases where STM inspectors overreact, fine and arrest or detain people…because [of] their race,” said Adrienne Gibson, a civil rights advocate at CRARR and McGill Faculty of Law graduate. “[Their] use of force can be excessive and unwarranted.” She added that that many young people and minorities don’t speak up against the STM, “because they are not aware of their civil rights.”
“In some cases, the STM [discourages] people from complaining, telling them they don’t have a good case,” she elaborated.
Gibson urged all students to stand up for their rights, like Jackie Jones did: “If you feel you’ve been racially profiled or discriminated [against], make a complaint…. Too many people think that what happens to them is an isolated case.” Ultimately, Gibson reminded the McGill community that “there is strength in numbers.”
—with files from Stephanie Law