MTL Sans Profilage is a research and action collective, made up of several volunteers from Montreal. Recently, the team conducted a qualitative study in the neighborhood of Saint- Michel on the viewpoints and experiences of racialized youth with the police. The study began in 2015, and was led by researchers Dr. Anne-Marie Livingstone, Dr. Ted Rutland, and Dr. Stéphane Alix, as well as Saint-Michel residents, Zakarya Youness Abidou, Walther Guillaume, Rhita Harim, Marc-Kendy Milien, and Larry Rémé. The Daily spoke with Walther Guillaume and Dr. Anne-Marie Livingstone. The researchers shared their motivations for undertaking the project, explaining what the results mean for relationships between youth in Montreal and the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). Anne- Marie Livingstone is currently a post- doctoral fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (Canada Program) at Harvard University, and Walther Guillaume is an engineering student and member of Forum Jeunesse de Saint-Michel (FJSM).
The McGill Daily (MD): Can you tell us a bit about your research and how this project came to be?
Anne-Marie Livingstone (AML): I had a long history of working on racism, inequality, and the Black community in Montreal. Part of the reason I went back to do [a] doctorate was because I saw a large gap in the literature on how institutions perpetuate racial inequalities in Canada. My initial field research was on anti-poverty policies in Montreal and Toronto, not specifically on policing. With the rise of neoliberalism in Canada and elsewhere, we’ve witnessed a decrease in social welfare and an increase in policing. This is seen in Montreal, where there has been a certain criminalization of social problems, such as with the crackdown on so-called youth gangs. My colleague Dr. Ted Rutland, from Concordia, met some young activists in Saint-Michel who expressed concerns about police violence in the neighborhood. I had previously done some participatory research with Black high school students in Montreal and knew the power of the methodology, so we decided to collaborate. A large part of this project was self-financed, but we did have some support in the form of a grant from l’Observatoire sur les Profilages at Université de Montréal. The young people were at the heart of everything. We decided everything together: outlining the research questions, creating the interview guide, and carrying out the interviews. We completed 48 interviews and spent nine months analyzing the data as a team, reading the transcripts line by line.
Walther Guillaume (WG): I was a part of Forum Jeunesse de Saint-Michel, and was looking for work at the time. I met Anne- Marie, and was interested in working with the project. In the summer of 2015 I got involved as a researcher.
“We’ve witnessed a decrease in social welfare and an increase in policing. This is seen in Montreal where there has been a certain criminalization of social problems such as with the crackdown on so-called youth gangs.”
— Anne-Marie Livingstone
MD: Can you give us a brief overview of the project and what has come out of it?
WG: The research was organized with a group of youth that Anne- Marie Livingstone met, and at the time there wasn’t any qualitative research on the subject. The goal was to get an idea of the relationship between police and the youth. We engaged with a group of young people in 2015, with whom we conducted 48 interviews. We asked them questions, and had them elaborate on their answers. We then spent a good amount of time analyzing the data to make the report, which was finished this past year after two years of work. We found common themes, and identified potential interventions with respect to surveillance and interrogations. We’ve done several presentations so far, and are going to continue to do so.
The results of the report included most notably the fact that in Saint- Michel, the police often interrogate youth without cause. They used a variety of methods to justify the arrests, most frequently claiming they had received a call about an incident, and asking to see ID. The report also mentioned multiple types of abuse by police, such as beating, kicking, and calling Black youths names like “orangutans” and “macaques.”
AML: What we learned is just how racial profiling operates in ways that are not generally understood, and that it is much more a function of the operations of policing than is normally perceived. We tend to think of racial profiling as the fault of police officers who are racist, but what we argue is that it is built into policies of the SPVM to police youth of colour at a higher rate. In our report, we name policies like identity checks, the surveillance of youth gangs, and the control of incivilities as contributing to, and even enabling, racial profiling.
MD: Why is this really important in Saint-Michel?
WG: It’s participatory and so it involves the youth directly, and the results are really important; this type of research can improve the lives of people in the neighborhood. The next thing to do is use the report to get people informed about what their rights are and what’s going on. I think it can lead to the police changing their rapport with youth.
MD: In terms of social media, what is the campaign?
WG: The social media campaign includes these educational vignettes, which show the experiences of youth with the police, and aim to help youth know their rights.
Did we achieve our goals? In a sense yes, a lot of people have engaged with the page to see the vignettes, and some people are going to use them for education programs.
In the next phase of the project, we will expand our efforts on education and outreach, putting more posters of the vignettes in school and in the community.
With regard to Forum Jeunesse (FJSM), another organization I am part of, it is also led by and for youth. Youth decide what activities to focus on. Our next project has the goal of creating a space for people older than 18 to learn, meet new people, and create – we have a lot of artists in the community who dance, DJ, etc. It will be a drop-in space unique from the current youth café, which mostly serves those under 18.
The final report of MTLSansProfilage calls for the following recommendations:
1) Requiring the SPVM to make race-based data publicly available;
2) Creating an independent police watchdog to analyze police data, produce reports, and conduct public consultations;
3) Eliminating all law enforcement policies and programs that target racial minority youth, including the war on street gangs and the penalties for harmless incivilities (e.g., hanging out in groups in public spaces);
4) Reducing the personnel and budget of the Poste de Quartier for Saint- Michel (Poste 30) by 20 per cent, and transferring those resources towards community-based programs for young people and families in the neighborhood.
The full report of MTLSansProfilage, with the final recommendations, is available here. The vignettes can be viewed online on Facebook, and @mtlsansprofilage (Instagram). A full Op-Ed by Dr. Anne-Marie Livingstone in response to the SPVM’s new plan to address racial profiling was published in CBC in February 2019.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.