The City of Montreal passed a unanimous motion on Monday calling on the Montreal police department to put an end to the practice of stopping and checking people without just cause.
“It’s really big news when the entire city council of Montreal says ‘unacceptable’ for the police to stop people on our streets based on their race, their colour, their ethnicity,” said Marvin Rotrand, the city councillor who first presented the motion.
The impetus behind the motion was an independent report, released in October, that showed visible minorities were being stopped by Montreal police officers more frequently than their white counterparts.
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.
Rotrand said that while the motion was amended to remove the word moratorium from the text, the intention of city council was very clear, in regards the Montreal police department (SPVM).
“Please stop doing these types of street checks and we expect you, by March, to come up with a new policy,” Rotrand said. “But you can’t do it by yourself, you have to involve civil society.”
It also calls on Montreal’s executive committee to reply in writing to council with measures the city plans to take to rectify the problems of racial profiling within the police force.
The SPVM, for its part, refused to comment on the issue, citing a class-action lawsuit launched by the Black Coalition of Quebec alleging racial profiling by Montreal police.
Dan Philip of the Black Coalition of Quebec, the main plaintiff behind the suit, agrees the motion is a first good step in bringing an end to police discrimination.
“It’s a very good action and I expect it will bring about some change,” Philip said, adding he plans to continue with the legal fight.
“Even if the city is moving forward a little, we still think that the people are being dealt with wrongfully,” he said. “There must be a process in which we continue to advocate justice for all.”
Because the motion is non-binding, Rotrand hopes the province will intervene.
“It’s not a law, it’s an invitation,” Rotrand said of the motion. “It doesn’t have the force of law. That’s why we asked the government of Quebec, the only instance that legally can change this, to legislate on this.”
Premier François Legault expressed surprise that the practice of random police checks was being used at all.
“I hope it doesn’t exist in Quebec,” he said when questioned by reporters at the National Assembly on Tuesday.
He then dismissed the idea of legislating against the practice, saying it was a Montreal problem.
“I saw that the Mayor of Montreal said she was sorry that it happened in Montreal, but it’s Montreal,” he said.
“If it’s not done this way in Montreal, it’s the responsibility of the City of Montreal.”