News | New police commissioner acknowledges racial profiling

Anti-police brutality groups still skeptical

Sworn into office last Monday, new Montreal Police Com-missioner Marc Parent has been busy courting media and Montrealers with his vision for a more tolerant Service de police de la ville de Montréal (SPVM) in the wake of a damaging internal report leaked to La Presse that cited racial profiling as a systemic and widespread problem among Montreal’s police force.

The report, dated March 2009, confirms what many activist and community groups have been saying – that black males in certain Montreal boroughs are much more likely to be stopped and questioned by police than their white counterparts. The study, written by criminologist Mathieu Charest for the SPVM, shows that by 2007, 30 to 40 per cent of young black males in areas such as Montreal North and St. Michel had undergone police identity checks, compared to five to six per cent of white males. 
In the immediate aftermath of the leak, the SPVM was quick to deny that racial profiling is as widespread as the study suggested. They claimed that the numbers were skewed despite the fact that the conclusions were derived from approximately 163,000 records of interactions, or “contact cards,” filled out by police officers between 2001 and 2007. 
However, in an interview with the Gazette last week, Parent broke from the SPVM’s long tradition of denying discrimination among the police force by admitting that racial profiling is a problem that the force needs to address. He pointed specifically to police street squads – such as a unit known as Project Eclipse – which needed to be restructured so as to place less emphasis on targeting certain types of youths and instead go after “hard core” suspects.

“I had a talk with Eclipse. I met with them, and we [told them to imagine themselves] in the place of those people who were targeted over and over as part of racial profiling,” Parent told the Gazette. “In years past their mandate was strongly about enforcement. I think [Eclipse] should continue as a team, but maybe we’ll merge them with investigation units in a way that is much more concentrated on what we want, which is to find really hardcore suspects.”

A report released the same week as Parent’s appointment shows that while muggings and crimes against property are down, the number of drug dealers in Montreal has ballooned over the last ten years. The number of crack cocaine dealers alone has skyrocketed from around 514 in the late 1990s to 2,998 in 2007-2008. Parent said that such changing crime patterns would be addressed as the force looks to shift its focus this fall.

Unfortunately, activist groups who have and continue to fight racial profiling by the SPVM, such as the Coalition Against Repression and Police Abuse, remain wary about how much change Parent will actually be able to effect.

“[Racial profiling] is clearly a much bigger problem than the authorities would like us to believe. We have to remember that the police tried to hide this report, and we only saw it as a result of a leak to the media,” said Alexandre Popovic, a spokesperson for the coalition.

“Therefore we are apprehensive about whether the new police chief will actually crackdown on this issue. We really have to wait and see,” Popovic added.

The SPVM declined to comment to The Daily.