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City launches new plan to reduce incidents of racial profiling

Police commit to administering consequences

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Last Tuesday, the City of Montreal revealed its plans for a new committee to fight racial and social profiling within the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM).

The committee, which is part of a three-year plan, is composed of elected officials from the SPVM, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), as well as the city and its boroughs at large. The committee has been mandated to closely examine six main areas, including public security, equality of access to employment, social development, and the fight against poverty.

Marc Parent, director of the SPVM, hails the new plan as “one of the best in Canada,” and has already taken steps to adapt the SPVM’s definition of racial profiling to that of the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ).

According to the CDPDJ definition, racial profiling is “any action taken by one or more people in authority with respect to a person or group of persons, for reasons of safety, security, or public order, that is based on actual or presumed membership in a group defined by race, colour, ethnic or national origin, or religion, without factual grounds or reasonable suspicion, that results in the person or group being exposed to differential treatment or scrutiny.”

The City of Montreal, and in particular the SPVM and STM, have a long history of racial profiling which has provoked public outcry and garnered media attention over the years. The most notable  case is that of Fredy Villenueva, an 18-year-old who was fatally shot in a Montreal Nord Park in 2008.

Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Centre for Research-Actions on Race Relations, a non-profit civil rights organization in Montreal, explained that while “[Parent’s] leadership gives many of us hope of better, fairer, and more harmonious police community relations. The real skepticism lies in the position of the Police Brotherhood Union on racial and social profiling, and how it will work with the police management team to equip all officers with better management skills to police a diverse city. To date, the position is not clearly articulated where the plan of action is concerned.”

Parent has said that officers caught profiling will face consequences ranging from reprimands to dismissals.

In a January 17 press release, the SPVM pledged to do its part to curb racial profiling through “its code of ethics, the continuous training of its first-line employees, and the growth of its human resource pool,  so as to better represent the community it serves.”

According to Fady Dagher, a representative of the SPVM involved in the formation of the committee, they “would like to sit down with the Human Rights Commission and develop a new partnership to see how we can work better to respond to each complaint.”

Dagher noted that the effectiveness of the committee is yet to be determined. “To eliminate [racial profiling] completely is extremely difficult, but to make progress and to get better is definitely possible,” he said.

Niemi, on the other hand, is not so confident. He explained that due to increasing racial diversity, poverty, and homelessness, “the police will continue to be the tools to leverage and control social change and economic disparities.”

The committee is set to release a report to the public at the end of 2012, detailing the results of the new action plans of both the SPVM and STM.