Racial profiling ‘alarming’ in Montreal
MONTREAL—Some of the most extensive evidence yet suggesting racial profiling by its officers has been produced from within the Montreal Police Service, but the force is disavowing the internal study.
The report suggests that the number of young black men stopped and questioned by police in Montreal’s sensitive neighbourhoods is “much too high” and even amounts to “fishing expeditions.”
Between 2001 and 2007, the report shows the frequency of police identification checks on individuals increased by 126 per cent in the Montreal North borough and 91 per cent in St-Michel.
This “alarming” increase “touched primarily blacks” such that by 2006 and 2007 between 30 and 40 per cent of young black men in these areas faced police identity checks, compared to 5 to 6 per cent of whites.
Meanwhile, only about 5 per cent of the checks yielded arrests or infractions. “A large proportion of these checks,” study author Michel Charest concludes, “can be judged as arbitrary or malicious.”
Sunday marked the second anniversary of the death of Fredy Villanueva, an unarmed 18-year-old who was killed by police in a park in Montreal North and whose death sparked a major riot and is still the subject of a coroner’s probe.
Charest doesn’t mince words when it comes to the implications of the findings: another riot is possible if the population feels targeted — “profiled” — by police, and can be sparked by an identity check “that turns bad.”
“The probability of a second riot is not nil,” he warns, questioning whether the proportion of crimes committed by blacks warrants the mass control.
Charest, who works for the research and planning section of the force, was not made available for an interview Monday. He based his report, first obtained by La Presse, on 163,630 “contact cards” filled out by police between 2001 and 2007.
Montreal Police Service commander Eric La Penna said that while the numbers in the report might be sound, “what we have to explain, so as to not mislead citizens, is that there are certain biases in the data.” La Penna reasoned that officers might not accurately fill out the cards, recording Arabs, Indians, or Latinos with dark skin as “black,” thus over-representing them.
He said racial profiling exists in certain cases, but denied any systemic problem. He said every officer now receives awareness training on the subject. Guillaume Hébert, co-founder of Montreal North Republik, an activist group formed after Villanueva’s death, denounced the police response as “an attitude of denial.”
“We are not very surprised by the conclusions,” said Hébert, “It adds to other studies. What’s important is that it’s an internal report arriving at the same conclusions.”
It’s significant the force is studying the issue, said Christopher McAll, a Université de Montréal sociologist who published a study in March using 2001 data showing black teens in Montreal were twice as likely to be arrested as whites.
Asked why other forces seem to have gone further in recognizing profiling as a systemic issue to tackle, he said the problem isn’t restricted to the police but also shows up in other areas of social life, such as housing, work and education.
“I get the impression that in Montreal, there is not a recognition that the problem is systemic in the collective sense,” McAll said. “There is more scapegoating of the police, that they’re the racist ones in a society that is tolerant, and . . . when you have that kind of position, police act very defensively.”