News  Police racial profiling victim may seek unpaid damages at Human Rights Tribunal

Officers involved not yet suspended

Correction appended June 26, 2014.

The City of Montreal and the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) have failed to pay $33,000 in damages incurred by racial profiling ordered by the Quebec Human Rights Commission in May to Farid Charles. Charles, a black former high school teacher, is prepared to bring his case to Quebec’s Human Rights Tribunal if the city and the SPVM continue to delay his compensation, which was due June 13.

At 12:30 a.m. on April 9, 2010, Charles was waiting in the passenger seat of a friend’s car in front of a Caribbean restaurant at a shopping plaza in LaSalle. There, officer Christopher Brault approached Charles, opened the passenger-side door, and asked for the car’s license and registration.

According to Charles, Brault insisted that Charles also show him a piece of identification, without justifying the request. After Charles asked why Brault wanted to see his identification, Brault yanked Charles out of the car, punched Charles, and pushed him to the ground. Charles was handcuffed, searched by Brault and his colleague officer Mathieu Bacon-Boucher, detained in the police car for 40 minutes, and subsequently fined $144 for “wandering without a cause,” according to Charles.

“He took away my freedom. He made me feel like a caged animal. He made me feel like a second-tier citizen. And I’ve never been bullied or bamboozled like that before […],” Charles told The Daily. “I felt like I was a slave. It was done because of my race.”

Police ethics complaint

With the help of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), Charles filed a complaint to the Comité de déontologie policère – Quebec’s police ethics committee – for “racial profiling, use of excessive force, abuse of authority, and bringing a charge without grounds,” according to a report published by the CRARR. CRARR also filed a civil rights complaint against Brault and Boucher-Bacon and their employer, the City of Montreal, to Quebec’s Human Rights Commission on Charles’ behalf.

In its first decision on February 7, 2013, the Comité concluded that Brault’s interrogation of Charles was illegal, because Brault had not provided any justification for asking Charles for a piece of identification. Since Brault and Boucher-Bacon had no valid motives for detaining Charles, the Comité also deemed that the two officers’ detainment of Charles was illegal.

However, the Comité refused to characterize Brault and Boucher-Bacon’s actions as having been motivated by stereotypes of Charles’ race, and ruled that the crimes committed against Charles were not instances of racial profiling. The decision states that “officer Brault’s decision to step into the vehicle by opening the door on the passenger’s side occurred when Brault had yet not clearly seen Charles [and identified his race].”.

Charles responded to the decision with indignation.

“It wasn’t racial profiling? So, what was it?” he told The Daily. “What triggered this whole thing? It’s just because he saw a car in front of a restaurant? He said it was because it was [dark and] suspicious. The lights were on around the plaza […]. You can’t hide in the plaza.”

The Comité declined to comment, stating that it does not give interviews to the media.

On May 28, 2013, the Comité rendered a second decision on the case, sanctioning Brault and Boucher-Bacon for their behaviour. It ruled that that they be suspended without pay ten days each, for unlawful arrest, unlawful use of force, and knowingly laying a charge without justification.

Fo Niemi, CRARR’s executive director, explained to The Daily that although the Comité’s decision to suspend Brault and Boucher-Bacon cannot compensate Charles in any way, it could damage their reputation as policemen.

“That process does not give the victim one single penny, but it does have an impact on their career, promotion, or pay […]. But 99.9 per cent of the cases, the moment a police gets suspended, he [or she] appeals [it to the Court of Quebec].”

In fact, in June 2013, Brault and Boucher-Bacon appealed the disciplinary sanction to the Court of Quebec, delaying the suspension.

The SPVM declined to comment on the case, as judicial proceedings are still ongoing.

Charles had also brought a civil rights complaint against Brault and Boucher-Bacon and their employer, the city of Montreal, to Quebec’s Human Rights Commission. The Commission, however, found that Charles had been a victim of racial profiling and recommended that the City of Montreal and the SPVM pay him a total of $33,000 by June 13, 2014, which they have not done.

Second racial profiling case at Quebec Human Rights Tribunal

To enforce the Commission’s decision to compensate Charles, Charles will have to apply to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal. If he does so, Charles would be the second person in the history of the Human Rights Tribunal to bring a racial profiling case to the Tribunal.

Niemi noted that it is rare for victims of racial profiling to win the cases they file with the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal.

“First of all, the Human Rights Commission lacks resources. […] It could take up to a year before you can have the investigation begin. And secondly, when the incident happens, [the victims…] don’t have witnesses, or they can have witnesses and after a year, witnesses can disappear,” Niemi said. “I would surmise that the majority of cases we have against police have been rejected or dismissed because of lack of witnesses and of people abandoning [their cases].”

Charles expressed his frustration with the SPVM’s ongoing profiling of racialized minorities in Montreal.

“If the city allows this to continuously happen, people are just going to lose faith, and people are losing faith in the system that is designed to protect us.”

Montreal mayor Denis Coderre could not be contacted to address the city’s lack of compensation to Charles before press time.

A history of SPVM racial profiling

After a policeman had shot and killed 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva in 2008, the police  commissioned SPVM criminologist Mathieu Charest to publish a report on organized crime and street gangs in Montreal. According to the report, the frequency of SPVM profiling of racialized minorities increased by 60 per cent in the city of Montreal, 125 per cent in Montreal North, and 91 per cent in Saint-Michel from 2001 to 2007.

The SPVM has justified such police action in these areas against members of the black community by referring to the rate of ‘criminality’ in these districts with the greatest concentration of racialized groups in Montreal.

However, based on police data in Charest’s report, crimes perpetrated by black people represented 10 to 20 per cent of all crimes – yet black people represented 40 per cent of people who were stopped and questioned for trivial reasons by the SPVM, such as “routine inquiry and person of interest,” between 2006 and 2007. White people only represented 5 to 6 per cent.

Based on evidence in Charest’s report, the Human Rights Commission concluded in its consultative report on racial profiling and its consequences throughout Quebec in 2011 that  “significant over-representation of blacks among those stopped and questioned in Montreal in recent years confirms the perception that racial profiling is being applied to them.”

In January 2012, the City of Montreal launched a new plan to fight racial profiling by the SPVM. However, in the Commission’s follow-up report in 2012, most spokespersons from various racialized communities noted that “despite the attention focused on the problem of racial profiling […] the intercultural training programs that are available to police departments, […] saw no improvement.”

The spokespersons stated that racialized youth continued to be accused of “loitering” and “causing problems” and that the media emphasized that racialized youths involved in thefts were either “black” or “Muslim.”

“We observe that half of the black [people] that have been interrogated [by the SPVM]  are not linked in any way to a gang [and] have no criminal record […],” explains Charest in his report. “We must therefore seriously question the vast majority of these ID checks, which have veritably implicated individuals that have little to do with the criminal environment that […the SPVM has] proposed to combat.”

In an earlier version of the story, The Daily referred to the author of the report as Charles in the final paragraph. In fact, the author is Charest. The Daily regrets the error.