Amal Asmar’s racial, social profiling case first of its kind to be heard in court

Amal Asmar sits with her husband, husband Ellis Galbraith. Asmar was a victim of racial and social profiling while sitting on a bench in Montreal in 2010. Amal Asmar

For the first time in its history, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission (CDPDJ) has recognized that a person was the victim of both racial and social profiling in the province.

“I knew it was going to take some time, but I didn’t think it was going to take seven years,” she told Global News.

“It’s been an exhausting experience.”

On Feb. 4, 2010, former Concordia University student Amal Asmar alleged she was mistreated and fined $1,040 by Montreal police simply because she is of Palestinian descent and was wearing a kaffiyeh, a black and white checkered scarf typically worn in Middle Eastern countries.

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Asmar said she was sitting on a bench at a bus stop near the Alexis Nihon mall on Sainte-Catherine Street at 3 a.m. when two officers, Sébastien Champoux and Michael McIntyre, approached her.

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“They thought she was one of these homeless people [who are usually in the area] and that’s why they treated her like that and they gave her this fine,” explained Fo Niemi, Director General of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), who worked with Asmar on her complaint.

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Asmar claims the officers twisted her arm and pushed her against their car before she was handcuffed, frisked and put in the cruiser.

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She said she was then given two tickets: one for making noise and another for using municipal property — the bench — “improperly.”

The fines were later withdrawn.

“It’s not just about me. It’s about all minorities, it’s something that I feel I have to do, but it’s taking its toll,” Asmar told Global News.

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“Every time, I have to relive that trauma again.”

READ MORE: Montreal police fined in racial profiling case involving black teenager

In addition to paying $45,000 in damages, the CDPDJ has demanded that the City of Montreal, as well as local law enforcement, impose measures to address and prevent profiling.

Montreal police told Global News it is looking at the measures and will evaluate whether or not they will be enforced.

WATCH BELOW: Racial profiling in Quebec

“These remedies notably include issues such as the collection and release of race‐based data (which Montreal police has stated its refusal to do so), the policy against “incivilities” and the adoption of an accountability mechanism for actions of racial or social profiling,” a press release by CRARR states.

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However, Niemi explained Montreal police don’t usually comply with the commission’s recommendations and the case will have to go before the Human Rights Tribunal.

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“This will be the first time social profiling will be litigated before the courts,” Niemi told Global News.

“Usually the person is homeless or has mental issues, so it can be hard to find them or they [their testimony] can be unreliable. This is not the case now.”

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Asmar, who currently works as a maternal child health/FASD co-ordinator with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council in Saskatchewan, believes education for police officers could help in the future.

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“It would be fantastic to actually have them required to fulfill a certain amount of volunteer work,” she told Global News.

“I think that the victory that I’ve accomplished, I’ve realized it’s a huge accomplishment, but we still have ways to go.”

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