In Montreal, visible minorities are more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts by officers with the city’s police force, according to an independent report released on Monday.
The report was authored by three university professors: Victor Armony of the Université du Québec à Montréal’s sociology department, Mariam Hassaoui of Université TELUQ and Massimiliano Mulone of the Université de Montréal’s school of criminology. They looked at three years of data from 2014 to 2017.
Its findings showed there is “significant, widespread and persistent disproportions” of racialized people who are stopped by police officers. The report also points to “the presence of systemic biases” linked to race during police interventions but stops short of concluding it was racial profiling.
Indigenous women are among the most targeted by the police department’s officers, according to the report, which found they were 11 times more likely to be stopped than white women.
The report also found that black and Indigenous people are four to five times more likely to be subjected to street checks by police officers in Montreal.
People of Arab descent are twice as likely to be stopped than white people. However, young Arabs between 15 and 24 years of age are four times more likely to be stopped by police.
The authors behind the report made five recommendations to the police department, including creating a policy around stopping individuals and addressing the issue of racial profiling in its plans, programs and practices.
Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron said on Monday he was both concerned and surprised with the report’s findings. He told reporters he plans to meet with his police officers in the coming days.
“This report does not report racial profiling at the SPVM,” he said. “It does indicate big and concerning disparities.”
Last December, Caron presented city council with the force’s 2018-21 plan to prevent racial profiling — a document that was short on details but included building stronger ties with communities.
The police department said on Monday it wants to work with the authors of the study on racial profiling and eliminate problems of discrimination among its ranks. The force plans to implement new measures and follow the five recommendations outlined in the report.
Insp. André Durocher said the police force is taking the time to analyze the report and address its findings.
“This is like a first picture — the picture is preoccupying. What are we going to do next?” he said.
‘What is currently emerging is shocking’
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante described the findings as “very worrisome” and that her administration will take the time to analyze the report.
“What is currently emerging is shocking,” she said. “This data does not represent the city we want. A city where every citizen feels safe, a city where citizens must be able to feel they are treated fairly.”
In light of the report, Plante said she can see there is “clearly a fundamental problem that leads to systemic discrimination.” She added that the findings are not acceptable and now is the time for concrete action.
Plante said she is asking the police department to take immediate action to address those issues. She added she wants the force to implement the suggestions laid out in the report.
“I expect the SPVM to follow all recommendations in the report,” she said.
However, the co-founder and executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations said the study confirms what groups that deal with these complaints have seen for the past 10 to 15 years.
“We’re still sort of surprised by it. The racial disparity in the stops is still very high,” Fo Niemi said.
“The only thing optimistic about this is that it’s inching towards recognizing systemic racism, even though there’s some reluctance in recognizing that concept and the need to review policy and practices.”
In August, a Quebec Superior Court judge authorized a class-action lawsuit against the City of Montreal on behalf of citizens who allege they were unfairly arrested and racially profiled by the city’s police.
Vice-chair denied access to meeting
Before the Montreal police department had a chance to react to the report, the vice-chair of the city’s public security commission was denied access to the press conference.
Abdelhaq Sari, who is Arab, said police officers didn’t let him into the room — but he was unsure as to why.
“I don’t know the reasons and I don’t exactly know what happened,” he said.
The Ensemble Montréal opposition party posted a video of the incident on its Twitter feed, calling it “extremely troubling” and asking the police force to apologize.
— With files from Global News’ Tim Sargeant and the Canadian Press