The City of Montreal and the Montreal police force (SPVM) continue to block a provincial inquiry into racial profiling conducted by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Commission. Of over 100 cases brought before the Human Rights Tribunal since it began in 2005, none have been resolved.
François Larsen, the commision’s director for research, education and communications, said the investigations have been mired in bureaucratic and jurisdictional disputes. Lawyers representing the police have challenged the Human Rights Commission by defending the right of police to refuse to testify, and by accusing the commission of bias.
“Right now, there are 10 cases before the tribunal, and no definitive rulings. The legalese must stop if we are going to get to the important issue, racial profiling,” said Larsen.
Lawyers have resisted subpoenas, invoking the Police Act and arguing that interrogations cannot take place if the case is also before the police ethics commission. But the Human Rights Commission maintains that the Police Act should not interfere with outside inquiries.
Dan Philip, president of the Black Coalition of Quebec, has been actively working with the commission’s project and spoke frankly on the City’s position as “systematic.”
“In every case brought before the tribunal, the City is always in cahoots with the police brotherhood and department and protected them against the inquiry. They have not done anything to recognize and minimize the question of racial profiling,” he said.
On January 25, Vision Montreal submitted a motion demanding that the City of Montreal ask the SPVM to collaborate with the Human Rights Commission at all levels, particularly at the tribunal level. The motion failed.
Brenda Paris, senior advisor to the cabinet of the head of the official opposition, noted that Vision Montreal will continue to pressure the City to let the Commission do its work.
“The commission has a mandate to evaluate cases relating to racial profiling, and this must proceed without hindrance. This is not a 2010 issue. It’s been going on for five years,” she said. The opposition will present a new motion this Monday, [February 22], in concert with Projet Montreal.
Racial profiling by police in Montreal has attracted attention beyond the provincial level. Last October, a delegation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights investigated in Montreal in response to the police shooting death of Fredy Villanueva in 2008.
Villanueva, then 18 years old, was fatally shot in a Montreal Nord Park during a confrontation when police were arresting his older brother, Dany Villanueva.
Although Dany Villanueva was to testify in the coroner’s ongoing inquest into his brother’s death, Villanueva is being threatened with deportation following a request initiated by Canada’s Border Services Agency.
The request is based on an incident in 2005, in which Dany pled guilty to gun possession and robbery, subsequently serving an 11-month jail term for his crimes. The question of his deportation will be adjudicated at a March 11 hearing before the Immigration and Refugee board.
In addition to the Fredy Villanueva case, Philip cited Mohammed Bennis, who was shot by police in 2005 in front of a mosque, and Quillem Registre, who died after police tasered him six times in less than a minute. Both of the cases were investigated by non-SPVM police forces and resulted in no charges.
Philip expressed cynicism in regards to the results. “There cannot be proper investigations when police are investigating police,” he said.
Larsen stated that court rulings will not change systematic prejudice, and that the commission recommendations go beyond policy or police training, emphasizing the importance of dialogue.
“People in authority are knowingly or not knowingly using prejudices to assume somebody is guilty. It is not a matter of policy, and it not always conscious. The first step in overcoming prejudice is to acknowledge it, and this step is always the most difficult. In a way, we are stuck at this first step. People do not want to be perceived as racist,” he said.
The Human Rights Commission is also spearheading a non-judicial inquiry which collected testimonials from youths aged 14-25 for a report that will be published in March. Larsen hopes that it will be used by communities in advocacy-building to combat “the spiral of profiling.”
He added that profiling has influenced youth’s perception of the justice system and societal institutions as a whole, mentioning the correlation between profiling and drop-out rates.
In an email to The Daily, City spokesperson Gonzalo Nunez affirmed that “the police department is training its members in order to adjust to the changing reality of the population of Montreal, which is increasingly more diversified,” but declined comment on the investigations.