Joel DeBellefeuille still remembers when he was racially profiled in 2012.
“Racial profiling is sometimes conscious as well as unconscious,” he told Global News, “and in my case, I think it was a bit of both.”
He’s glad the Quebec government is investing over $900 thousand in a new police training programme.
“The decision by Quebec to help the police force understand what racial profiling is, how it makes people feel, is definitely a step in the right direction,” said DeBellefeuille.
The mandatory training will be given first in police forces around the province, and in four years’ time, it will become part of the police academy curriculum. It comes after recommendations made in 2020 by the government’s anti-racism task force created to combat problems of racial discrimination, including racial profiling.
“We know that racial profiling is a major issue,” said Benoit Charette, Quebec minister responsible for the fight against racism. “I met probably more than a hundred groups during the last year, and it’s probably the most significant subject that is on the table each time.”
Details of the new training programme are still being worked out, but according to a government-issued press release, it’s being developed in conjunction with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, the Quebec police academy and the Police Ethics Commissioner.
DeBellefeuille who has started an organization to fight racial profiling, called the Red Coalition, hopes the new police course isn’t a one-time thing.
“It’s not going to take a couple of hours in class or a couple of days in class,” he pointed out. “It has to be an ongoing initiative.”
Retired Montreal police inspector André Durocher agrees. He says any kind of training has to evolve with the times.
He added that the training must be done so law enforcement officers are not made to feel as if they’re being targeted, otherwise they may not be receptive.
Nakuset, who heads the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, expressed concern that police might not engage with the training, citing experiences she said she had while giving cultural awareness workshops to police officers. She wonders how the new programme will be tailored to help make sure officers don’t just switch off.
“I applaud the fact that they’re going to do this, but you have to do it right,” she argued. “If you don’t do it right, you’re just wasting your money.”
One way she thinks success can be achieved is to have the officers tested after training.
Fo Niemi, Executive Director for the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, a Montreal-based organization that advocates for civil rights, agrees that there should be an evaluation at the end.
He also wants community involvement in the instruction.
According to Charette, there are additional plans to address Indigenous needs in the training, which will be announced imminently.
The programme is expected to start in the coming weeks.