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Cote-des-Neiges man claims victory in racial profiling case against Montreal police

The Quebec Human Rights Commission ruled Errol Burke was racially profiled. July 19, 2020.
The Quebec Human Rights Commission ruled that Errol Burke was racially profiled in February 2017. Dan Spector / Global News

A Black Cote-des-Neiges man is celebrating a step toward justice in a case of alleged racial profiling.

The Quebec Human Commission ruled last month that two Montreal police officers racially profiled and use disproportionate force against Errol Burke.

In February of 2017, Burke was heading to his local depanneur to buy milk. He said police ran toward him with their guns drawn, telling him to put his hands up. Burke claims officers slammed him against a door, dragged him across the ground and then handcuffed him with no explanation.

It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Police were looking for a Black man in his 20s. Burke was 54 at the time.

READ MORE: Montrealers take to the streets to protest racial profiling

“In my heart, I know that they looked at me, saw a Black guy and decided to come after me,” Burke said at a press conference on Sunday. “I was there and saw the look on their faces when I accused them because they knew I wasn’t the guy.”

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With the help of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), Burke filed formal complaints with the Police Ethics Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission. The Ethics Commissioner initially rejected the complaint, but CRARR successfully appealed the decision. This past February, the two officers involved were cited for racial discrimination, excessive force and more.

“There’s going to be accountability, and that’s what you need to give people like myself some sort of confidence in the system because, frankly, my confidence is not that high,” Burke said.

READ MORE: Montreal police unveil new policy to prevent racial profiling

The Human Rights Commission has asked the city and the officers to pay Burke $45,000 in damages. The decision is not binding, but CRARR says it’s still important to bring such complaints.

“All these complaints, when they are filed, they help establish a record,” said CRARR executive director Fo Niemi. “All these complaints and the litigation cost the Montreal police. They cost the City of Montreal. After a while taxpayers will have to say ‘these things cost a lot.'”

Burke said he’s never looked at police officers the same way again and has looked over his shoulder every time he returned to the store where the incident happened.

The Montreal police recently unveiled a new policy that aims to prevent racial profiling, after a report last fall found that people from certain racialized groups were much more likely than others to be stopped by police.

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Global News has reached out to the Montreal police for comment on Burke’s case.