A young Black man says he is traumatized after what he describes as violent encounter with Laval police.
Samuel, whose last name is not being published because he fears of being targeted again, said he is having nightmares after police allegedly dragged him out of the passenger’s seat of a vehicle by his hair and then hit him on the head.
“I am traumatized by how the police acted with me when I did not show any signs of violence or aggressiveness. This is unacceptable. Nothing can justify such gestures,” said Samuel in a statement to Global News.
A friend of Samuel’s who was in the vehicle with him at the time captured the incident on his cell phone.
In the video, an officer is heard asking Samuel to get out of the car. He repeatedly asked police why but gets no answer other than, “it’s an order,” or, “it’s investigation”.
As Samuel remains inside the car, the police officer reaches for his hair while he says “come on” and is then seen being dragged to the sidewalk. Police then appear to violently arrest him.
Samuel is heard pleading “leave me, leave me,” as an officer hits him repeatedly in the head.
“Put your hands in the back,” the police officer yells.
“But you’re hitting me,” Samuel yells back.
“We must be aware of the magnitude of the problem and the city must take responsibility,” Samuel wrote to Global News.
The legal firm Arsenault-Drufresne has taken on Samuel’s case and is looking into filing a lawsuit against the city of Laval.
The incident happened on May 25, the same day that George Floyd, a 46-year-old U.S. Black man, died in Minneapolis police custody after a white police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck.
The incident has prompted a wave of protests in the United States and Canada, including in Montreal, with calls for a reform in the police force and an end to police brutality.
Fo Niemi of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) says the scene in Laval is all too familiar.
“From what we saw, it seems like a typical scenario of Black people who are stopped by police: they use force and there is an escalation of a situation. It’s a simple traffic stop,” Niemi said.
“We’ve had a lot of cases like this in Laval.”
Niemi says there is a need to look at whether Laval police are receiving the proper training.
“That’s the type of escalation that could’ve been avoided,” Niemi told Global News.
“Police have to be more careful intercepting Black people.”
Balarama Holness, the co-founder of Montreal in Action, an organization fighting to advance justice and equality through community initiatives, also saw the video of the arrest.
“Personally, I am numb to that at this point,” he said of the police intervention.
“My question is when is it going to end? Time and time again we see shootings and killings and for many people, it has a weathering effect. At this point, we are asking ourselves: when can we see changes?”
Holness, who is a lawyer, is calling for greater accountability from the police force.
First and foremost, he says, it’s important that police officers abide by the Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms.
According to Article 10, Section A of the Charter, “everyone has the right on arrest or detention to be informed promptly of the reasons.”
For Holness, it’s clear that wasn’t done by Laval police from what’s seen in the video.
“The issue is they are acting with impunity,” Holness said of police.
In Quebec, the Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, or BEI, investigates cases where civilians have been seriously hurt or killed during a police intervention or in police custody. It also probes cases involving officers accused of sexual misconduct or when the alleged victim is Indigenous.
Quebec created the watchdog after mounting pressure from citizens upset that police were left to investigate each other.
The BEI has initiated 90 criminal investigations of Quebec police officers since it began operating in June 2016. Of those, 42 resulted in no charges and 43 remain open. Two officers have been charged with sexual assault and three files are being studied by prosecutors.
“We have to have impartial judges that are going to be able to look at these situation and provide impartial legal analysis that, in my opinion, would lead to more convictions and would deter from those acts,” Holness explained.
“We need to make sure there is a mechanism to hold them accountable and the police ethics’ commission is not working.”
According to Laval police, a complaint was filed to the province’s police ethic’s commission so they can’t comment on the case.
However, Genevieve Major, a spokesperson for Laval police, said the video did not show the whole context of the arrest and the reasons behind police’s actions.
According to Laval police, of the 150,000 police interventions that were carried out in 2018, they had eight complaints for racial profiling against them. Four were rejected by the police’s ethics commission and was one abandoned by the plaintiff.
“Mathematically-speaking, we can’t consider this represents a problem in racial profiling,” Major said.
Laval police did not share data for any other years.
Major also defended the force by saying they always abide by the law and do not change the way they act based on a person’s race.
Major added officers receive appropriate training and they apply their knowledge to all their interventions.
— With files from The Canadian Press