Organizers of a Caribbean festival want answers from police, after they say about a dozen officers showed up for a noise complaint at a fundraising event on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. They say the response amounts to over-policing and racial profiling.
The say the event, at the Greenz Restaurant parking lot in Lachine, Que., was a barbecue to raise funds to support the July 8-10 annual Spice Island Cultural Festival. Gemma Raeburn-Baynes, vice-president and spokesperson for the Spice Island Cultural Day Association of Quebec (SICDAQ) said police arrived at 8:30 p.m.
“We just saw cop car after cop car after cop car, coming and stopping,” she told Global News. “They all just came out of their cars, it was like a swarm of bees there were so many of them.”
Restaurant owner Leo Charles estimates there might have been about a dozen officers.
“Including RCMP,” he recalled. “What would RCMP be doing at a function like this?”
He said he asked one of the officers why they were there and was told that they were there for a noise complaint.
Tracy Veilleux, SICDAQ artistic director, who is white, said her mixed race kids were terrified.
“Basically they were asking me if they were going to be tasered or shot,” she recalled, “and I said no you’re not, just stay with me.”
What she and other organizers say they want to know is why so many police officers would show up for a noise complaint.
Event organizers say they’re still waiting for an explanation from police.
Montreal police told Global News the specialized Eclipse unit, created to tackle violent and organized crime and comprising RCMP and Sûreté du Québec officers in addition to Montreal police personnel, were on scene that day.
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In a statement, the department said, “As part of the Centaure strategy, police officers from the Éclipse group … make sporadic visits to various bars and restaurants in the city. The Éclipse unit offers a support service to the units, collects information and intelligence, increases police visibility and the population’s feeling of security.”
“On June 24, following a noise-related complaint, members of the Éclipse unit showed up at an establishment on rue St-Jacques, in support of neighborhood station 8. After informing the organizer of the event concerning ambient noise in the establishment’s parking lot, the officers left the scene without any statement of offense being issued.”
Operation Centaur was launched last year to fight gun trafficking and violence.
Some believe people at the event, who were mostly Black, were racially profiled – a side effect of the war on guns in the city.
“Because historically, whether it be war of drugs or gangs, you have collateral damage,” explained Alain Babineau, former RCMP officer and Racial Profiling and Public Safety Director for anti-racism lobby group, Red Coalition.
“It seems as though this particular event was one example of collateral damage, where basically Black people were targeted because they were gathering in an open space.”