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The Montreal police force has a racial profiling problem

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Content warning: anti-Blackness, police brutality

On March 12, Kendrick McRae, a Black man, was stopped by a Montreal police officer while driving a Mercedes and asked for his license and registration. According to McRae, after checking his documents, the officer told McRae that “the lights above his license plate” weren’t working. McRae demonstrated that the lights were functioning and began recording evidence of the altercation with a camera. Police then arrested him for “disturbance,” handcuffed him, detained him in the back of a police car, and deleted the recorded evidence. This wasn’t the first time McRae was racially profiled; in fact, he had purchased the camera to “protect himself from the police.” There are endless cases involving non-Black police officers harassing Black men in Montreal without justification, revealing how the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) – which is 88.7 per cent white – makes decisions based on Black racial stereotypes. The endemic nature of racial profiling within the SPVM, and the longstanding difficulty mitigating it, is emblematic of the SPVM’s abuse of power in policing racialized bodies. It’s imperative that we advocate for justice and compensation for McRae, as well as critique practices within the SPVM and the judicial process.

Montreal has seen a particularly high number of racial profiling cases. Between 2001 and 2007 in the Montreal North borough (a community which is largely racialized), identification checks conducted by police officers increased by 126 per cent and predominantly affected Black men. For instance, in 2011, Victor Whyte was violently beaten by multiple officers after being accused of getting on a city bus without paying. At the time, Whyte filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission (CDPDJ) about this injustice. After six years, he has not yet received any compensation; the CDPDJ has been said to have a “culture of delay.” The CDPDJ, which includes no commissioners who are people of colour (POC), has also been accused of apathy toward systemic racism. Within the commission, reports of racial profiling often take five to seven years to be addressed, and are often dismissed due to “insufficient evidence. This “culture of delay” is exacerbated by the SPVM’s general lack of accountability, and their tendency to deny accusations made against them – as evidenced by their refusal to investigate McRae’s case.

In March 2016, Quebec’s national police school discussed strategies to improve the representation of racialized people within their student body by reaching out to CEGEP students. When this strategy failed to produce significant results, the school’s director of communications, Pierre Saint-Antoine, told the CBC that they had “little influence” over their applicants, effectively dodging responsibility. What Saint-Antoine missed, however, is the differing perceptions of the police force held by white people and POC.

McRae deserves an apology and compensation, but that won’t end racial profiling. While the police’s band-aid solution of hiring more POC may seem to solve the issue, it does not address the systemic racism which is at the root of racial profiling. Rather, the SPVM and any reform initiative should take into account the systemic racism that pervades the police force.