A group of Black officers in the Montreal Police Service is urging their union, the Montreal Police Brotherhood, to acknowledge that systemic racism exists in the force.
Nine officers, including two women, are making the demand after media interviews in which they say the union head, Yves Francouer, downplayed the problem.
They first sent a letter to Francoeur, signed by the group, saying in French: “We were surprised that you did not believe there was a problem with systemic racism and racial profiling within the ‘SPVM’.”
The letter goes on to say that even the force itself has pledged to undertake measures to deal with the problem.
On Friday, the union replied, taking issue with the term “systemic racism”, saying: “The meaning given to the term systemic racism is different from the one naturally understood by reading the definition. This is probably why there is no consensus or understanding of the meaning.”
Now, the nine police officers are taking their message public and have approached the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) for help.
They met with former RCMP officer Alain Babineau, who works as an advisor for CRARR.
Babineau said he wasn’t surprised when the group contacted him wanting to tell the public — particularly people of colour — of their experience with racism.
“They share their pain and concerns,” said Babineau during a press briefing near Montreal police headquarters in downtown Montreal. “But they also have their own struggles in the profession that they love.”
Babineau told Global News that he’s been hearing the stories for years.
“We’re talking about anything from overt explicit words that they hear to describe Blacks or other racialized groups to innuendos.”
He said the officers even complained about being ostracized or were not taken seriously for voicing concerns about issues of race, whether about personal experiences within the force or about racial profiling.
Balarama Holness — founder of Montréal en Action who launched a successful petition in 2019 to get the city of Montreal to launch public consultations into systemic racism at the city — said the union is confusing “systemic” with “systematic”.
“They mention (in the letter) that systemic discrimination for them is that every police officer is racist and that is not what systemic discrimination means,” Holness said.
“Systemic discrimination is simply the outcome of policies such that the SPVM is intercepting more people of colour.”
Anne-Marie Livingston, who co-authored a report about Montreal policing, explained that racial profiling by officers isn’t just a result of bias.
“It is actually held up and reproduced by policies of the SPVM, among which we can include colour-blindness and the denial of racism,” she said. “There’s also the racialization of street gangs, the focus on high-risk neighbourhoods, by allowing police officers to target certain groups more intensively and to treat them with more suspicion. All of these things reproduce racial profiling.”
Babineau added that because of the influence unions can have over members, it’s important for the Police Brotherhood to acknowledge the problem.
“Unions must get involved to tackle this issue, unions must be on board. If unions deny systemic racism it’s going to be a problem.”
The Police Brotherhood refused to comment.
CRARR officials said the nine officers aren’t satisfied with the union’s answer and plan to respond.