Pradel Content’s civil rights were violated by two Montreal police officers who detained him as they searched for a robbery suspect, according to a ruling from the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission.
“I’m happy with the decision,” he said. “It’s better late justice than having no justice.”
In March 2014, Content, an English-speaking black man who walks with a cane due to serious injuries caused by a car crash, says he was roughly detained near the Atwater Metro station by two Montreal police officers, Sébastien Laurin and Marc-Michel Roy, due to a “vague suspect description.”
Content was heading to a concert with three friends when he says he was suddenly grabbed by one of the officers, Laurin, who was looking for “a black man in black clothes.”
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Content recalls the officer was looking for someone who had stolen a white cellphone. Upon showing him that his phone was black, Content was let go.
He remembers telling Laurin he had never been treated this way before and was promptly dragged to a police van nearby.
He says he cried out in pain due to the excessive force put on him as he tried to explain that he had a disability and used a cane.
Once officers checked Content’s ID, they released him “without apology,” notes the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR).
In the years to follow, Content filed several complaints regarding the incident, leading to a Human Rights Commission investigation in 2018.
As a result, the then-36-year-old was determined to have been a victim of discrimination based on race and disability.
“This decision marks a new milestone in civil rights for black and disabled persons where policing is concerned,” said Fo Niemi, CRARR executive director.
“Too often, because of vague, race-based suspect descriptions, innocent black men are mistakenly detained and arrested with great force by police who, once they recognize the error, tend to refuse to apologize.”
The City of Montreal and the two officers have been ordered to pay Content a total of $19,000 to compensate for “violent detention and civil rights violations.”
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“A black man’s disability, physical or otherwise, is often ignored by police officers who often do not see beyond race and gender, which, in turn, can lead to regrettable, fatal interventions,” said Alain Babineau, CRARR adviser and a retired RCMP officer.
“Most officers are not trained on dealing with people with disabilities, especially people of colour with disabilities.”
Montreal police are also being asked to develop training when it comes to circulating vague descriptions of a suspect where race is the dominant identifying factor.
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