On November 8, the Black Students Network of McGill (BSN) and Media@McGill hosted a panel titled “Opposing racial profiling and police violence.” The event featured three speakers: Robyn Maynard, a Montreal-based community organizer, journalist Desmond Cole, and Andrea Ritchie, a U.S. based activist and lawyer. The panel, moderated by Dr. Rachel Zellars, discussed police brutality, racial profiling in Montreal, and its implications on education and immigration.
375 years of racial subjugation
Maynard spoke to the audience about racial profiling in Montreal, and the legacy of racialized violence in Canada.
“While it’s important to talk about anti-Blackness as a national crisis and a global crisis, […] it’s also important to think of [anti-Blackness] as a local crisis, as one that impacts our day to day lives here,” said Maynard.
“Montreal very recently celebrated its 375th anniversary, and this […] is an opportunity for us to reflect on the long standing racial violence […] that brings injustice of profiling Black communities. […] Disproportionate punishment to Black communities that have really been a part of this city’s fabric since then.”
“Disproportionate punishment to Black communities that have really been a part of this city’s fabric since then.”
Maynard noted that James McGill, the founder of McGill University, had enslaved Black and Indigenous people, contributing to a “longstanding legacy of racialized violence, domination and dehumanization.”
Maynard highlighted the ways in which racial profiling is perpetuated in Montreal: “If we think about the neighbourhoods that we’re living in, the populations with the highest percentage of Black communities in St. Michel and Montreal North today still are not only subject to extreme levels in terms of policing, but drastically underserved in transit, jobs, and housing.” According to a report by Centraide, around 30 per cent of the Montreal North residents live below the poverty line. Activist groups in the region have voiced concern on a “systemic anti-Black racism” in Quebec following the death of Bony Jean-Pierre, who died after being shot by police in Montreal North.
In addition to the harms of anti-Black racism in Black communities, Maynard noted that communities such as Burgundy and Cote des Neiges have been gentrified, disproportionately affecting Black and other racialized residents. She noted such “geographies of injustice” perpetuate racial profiling.
“This is a long-standing pattern of Black people [who] are being killed in the hands of the police, [who] are not being represented as a local crisis that [they] absolutely must. […] When we’re talking about celebrating 375 years of this city, we also need to be talking about what it means to be living in a city with 375 years of […] racial subjugation and over-policing of Black communities,” said Maynard.
“When we’re talking about celebrating 375 years of this city, we also need to be talking about what it means to be living in a city with 375 years of […] racial subjugation and over-policing of Black communities.”
Racial profiling beyond carding
Maynard referred to an internal report by criminologist Mathieu Charest, which states that the chances of a Black youth being stopped by the police in the north part of Montreal is at 40 per cent.
The percentage is drastically lower for white youth, at merely 5 per cent. While the report was commissioned by the police after the shooting of Fredy Villanueva by a Montreal police officer in 2008, it was rejected by the Montreal police when leaked by La Presse.
Maynard stressed the importance of looking beyond statistics and visible forms of police violence despite the “massive” discrepancy highlighted by the report.
“We only focus on spectacularized kinds of events, for example, police killings, police violence. We miss all of the kinds of daily rituals of violence that occur […] without death, including racial profiling. […] There are so many other kinds of policing and profiling that don’t necessarily [..] get put into this framework because it doesn’t […] result in a body. […] We need to look at racial profiling in a broader sense, not just law enforcement.”
“We only focus on spectacularized kinds of events, for example, police killings, police violence. We miss all of the kinds of daily rituals of violence that occur […] without death, including racial profiling.”
She continued, “what the statistics don’t convey is the […] humiliation and shame that comes with being stopped by the police. […] The inability to actually be in public space without fear of harassment or actual lived harassment is […] ultimately […] a form of violence.”
“We need to look at racial profiling in a broader sense, not just law enforcement.”
Maynard noted that racial profiling is also a “gateway” for other forms of violence. “We need to expand this definition of what is actually happening in schools,” said Maynard, noting the importance of thinking beyond carding as an indication of anti-Black racism.
“What anti-Black racism means is that, […] for us, policing is everywhere. So it’s absolutely necessary for us to realize this when we talk about what it means to strategize against the onset of racial profiling. […] If we focus our energy only on the issue of carding while ignoring the broad, sweeping things that exist beyond that, I think we will be doing a disservice to ourselves.”
According to a report by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, Caribbean background students were three times more likely to be labelled as student with special needs. “This is the kind of profiling, […] pushing youth out of access to decent education […] as a certain kind of harm,” said Maynard.
Definition of Policing
Cole spoke about the boundaries of law enforcement, and the ways in which policing is perceived by the public.
“What I want to talk about today is this idea of the definition of policing. […] What is it in real life? What is it in the public consciousness?” asked Cole.
“Teachers, nurses, bus drivers, social workers, universities. […] You can find any walk of life that you’re going to have a conflict with one another. But only the police are told that it’s part of their job, you can kill. […] What if we stop arguing about whether they have the training (which they don’t)? Whether they should carry a rubber bullet gun or a taser, weapons? None of which they should have.”
“Teachers, nurses, bus drivers, social workers, universities. […] You can find any walk of life that you’re going to have a conflict with one another. But only the police are told that it’s part of their job, you can kill.
Cole referred to the the Toronto Board’s recent decision to temporarily suspend a program that allowed armed police to surveil in high schools. “What’s been happening in Toronto recently [is] […] we are pushing back against a ten year police in schools program [that] finally got suspended in the Toronto district school board,” said Cole.
The School Resource Officer (SRO) program was implemented in 2007 to improve student and police relations, but was put up for review after community members published a report detailing the negative impact of the SRO. Subsequently, the SRO has been been criticized for alienating racialized students and criminalizing undocumented students.
In June, groups such as Black Lives Matter and Not Incarceration called for the abolition of the SRO at a board meeting, halting the program. The Toronto District School Board will be conducting a written survey for participating schools to evaluate the SRO.
“But what we’re seeing is that it’s principals and teachers, not just the police who are driving this conversation to have police in schools,” said Cole. He emphasized the importance of re-defining policing to prevent racialized violence perpetrated by police institutions.
“As a description of policing; don’t kill, don’t maim, don’t arrest children who are in school, don’t report children who are in school to the border agency. […] This is where we have to go. […] If we take away the option to kill, all the anti-Blackness starts flooding in as an excuse to why we can’t do it. […] ‘What is the police’s job?’ […] We seem to want to pretend that […] we agree that police should be not reporting undocumented children who are going to school [..] but when we say ‘let’s make that part of the job’, they [respond], ‘no […] what if’. […] That’s the way I see anti-blackness manifest itself.”
Cole referred to Toronto activist Sandy Hudson, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, in a conversation on “what it means for Black people to receive care, rather than policing.”
“ I start to think about what is the definition of a police officer, and what happens when we start to challenge that definition,” said Cole. He noted that the suspension of the program is not only a push against anti-Black racism, but also re-examines the definition of policing. “The definition of their jobs are up for discussion right now,” he noted. “When we try to turn policing from the abusive institution that it is now to an institution that could actually care for people […] the white colonial settler state […] gets scared.”