Since George Floyd — a Black man — died while in police custody in Minneapolis after a white police officer kneeled on his neck, there have been widespread calls for an overhaul of law enforcement.
On Wednesday, a group of Montreal community leaders and elected officials listed some key changes needed inside the Montreal police force to stop racial profiling.
They are encouraging the city to take steps that they believe will help end what they see as systemic racism in the police service.
“Zero-tolerance policy, not only on racial profiling but on internal discrimination within its ranks,” said Alain Babineau, an advisor for the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR).
The group said the problem has led to over-policing of racialized groups, sometimes with fatal consequences.
According to an independent report last fall, Black, Indigenous and Arab people were more likely to be stopped by police than their white counterparts.
“We want a policy in place to provide officers with some guidance,” said Babineau.
The group has come up with a list of five demands:
• A policy on bias-free street checks.
• Adequate public hearing on the policy, to be held by the Public Security Commission of Montreal.
• Mandatory body cameras for all front-line officers.
• A policy on race-based data collection and annual reporting.
• The creation of a community advisory committee to help implement the above policies.
Some of the demands are in the works by Montreal police (SPVM) and the city of Montreal.
Montreal police promised to establish a new policy on street checks to be released on July 8.
The city confirmed in a press release on June 5 that there will be public consultation on the new policy.
“Everything that this group is asking for, we’re already doing, we are committed to doing,” said Alex Norris, the chair of the city’s public security commission. “For our administration, the fight against racial and social profiling is very high priority. We’re committed to fighting this phenomenon, putting in place policies and practices that bring it entirely to an end.”
Norris said that because of the coronavirus pandemic, the consultations will be conducted in a different way. He says the city is looking into potentially holding consultations online and having people submit written briefs.
The Montreal office of public consultations (OCPM) held the first ever public consultations on systemic racism and discrimination last May after a group of Montrealers gathered the 20,000 signatures needed to force the city to hold such consultations.
The office is making its report public on Monday. Norris says the commission will look at the recommendations and take them seriously.
“Anything that we can do to improve the city’s record in fighting discrimination, racism, racial and social profiling, we are eager to do,” Norris said.
As for body cameras for police, speaking to reporters last week, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said she hopes to see SPVM police wearing body cameras as soon as possible.
The group says race-based data collection is important to understand where the needs are and force the government to make changes.
“It will actually show the disproportionate representation of not just the Black community but all the communities,” said Mark Henry, president of the Jamaica Association of Montreal.
The group wants affected communities to be involved to help implement the measures.
As a result of worldwide protests, along with a renewed, heightened awareness and public discourse over anti-Black racism and police brutality following Floyd’s death, there is a growing movement to defund police departments across North America and redirect those funds to social services.
The group is not recommending reducing police funding.
Babineau, a former police officer, thinks defunding is a bad idea.
“It scares the community in terms of, ‘How they going to be able to protect me?'” said Babineau.
Whether funding is reduced or not, experts believe rethinking policing is necessary because the structure of policing creates the framework for profiling.
It tells officers, for example, that “Black kids are liable to be street gangs. Or because they live in a certain neighbourhood, that they’re liable to commit certain infractions,” said Anne-Marie Livingstone, a researcher and post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University who led the research team of the qualitative study #MTLSansProfilage, which looked into racial profiling by Montreal police.
Those pushing for change hope the city takes the demands seriously.
Montreal police (SPVM) declined Global News’ request for comment.
Racial profiling and racial discrimination against Black people is a systemic problem in Canada, according to numerous reports and experts.
Black Canadians account for 3.5 per cent of the country’s total population, according to the latest government statistics, but are over-represented in federal prisons by more than 300 per cent, as found by the John Howard Society.
A Black person is nearly 20 times more likely than a white person to be involved in a fatal shooting by Toronto police, a 2018 report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission found, and Black Canadians are more likely to experience inappropriate or unjustified searches during encounters and unnecessary charges or arrests. They’re also more likely to be held overnight by police than white people.
Black Canadians experience disparities in health outcomes compared to the population at large, and studies show they often face barriers and discrimination within health-care systems. Black people report higher rates of diabetes and hypertension compared to white people, which researchers say may stem from experiences of racism in everyday life.
Indigenous Peoples, who represent about five per cent of the population in Canada, also experience poorer health outcomes and face discrimination within health-care systems and by police. According to Statistics Canada, they are grossly over-represented in the prison system — Indigenous men made up 28 per cent of male admissions to custody in 2017-18 — and, according to the John Howard Society, are nearly eight times more likely to be murdered. According to the Canadian Department of Justice, Indigenous women and girls are more than three times more likely to experience sexual assault and violence and are between six and 12 times more likely to be killed, depending on the province or territory.