Racial profiling complaints in Quebec up over 50 per cent

Watch: Racial profiling complaints up in Montreal: Part 1/2

MONTREAL – Damiano Raveenthiran was waiting in a car with friends near the Lachine Canal in Montreal last March, when he heard a gun shot.

Within minutes, five police cars arrived and SPVM officers had their weapons drawn.

“Un hindou comme toi.”

“I never thought it would happen to me but it did,” said the 23-year-old Concordia University student.

He is convinced the police targeted him because of the colour of his skin.

“He said in French that we’re looking for ‘un hindou comme toi.’ They were looking for a Hindu person like me.”

Raveenthiran was so traumatized by the incident, he ended up dropping out of school for the semester.

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“Someone should be held accountable.”

What upsets him the most is that he said he clearly saw four men drive away from the scene that day.

Apparently the officers didn’t listen when he told them.

“This police officer grabbed me, threw me on the trunk of the car, put me in handcuffs, took everything out of my pockets. I was like, ‘What did I do?’”

Police finally released Raveenthiran, without an apology.

READ MORE: Racial profiling complaints in Quebec up over 50 per cent (Part 2 in series)

One officer allegedly added insult to injury by suggesting that Raveenthiran would have a funny tale to tell his friends.

Taking action
The Centre for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR) has helped the Concordia student to file complaints with both the police ethics committee and the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

It is one of 150 cases currently being tackled by CRARR’s lawyers.

“We’ve gone backward on a lot of the efforts to bring the communities closer to police and to enhance accountability,” said Fo Niemi, CRARR’s executive director.

Watch: Fo Niemi talks about preventing racial profiling

Racial profiling complaints up
In January of 2011, Montreal’s police chief Marc Parent was the first to ever admit the problem was widespread within the police force.

At the time, Parent promised to crack down on racial profiling with concrete measures like extra training for officers.

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But despite the efforts, the number of racial profiling complaints at the Quebec Human Rights Commission has jumped by 52.1 per cent between the fiscal years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

This brings the total number of racial profiling complaints to 150 – and the majority of them involve Montreal police officers.

“Very clearly the commission is concerned that the phenomenon still seems to exist quite massively,” said Jacques Frémont, President of the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

Frémont is planning to meet with Montreal’s police chief in the coming weeks to discuss the alarming number of complaints.

“The challenge is a change of culture.”

But he admits there’s no quick fix.

“The challenge is a change of culture basically within the police forces and within Quebec society in general, so we’re fighting against prejudice we’re fighting against well established ways of doing things,” said Frémont.

Despite police efforts, some feel the fight against racial profiling has taken a back seat since last spring’s student protests.

“Up until this year, we’ve seen a hardening of the police attitude towards the public especially with Bylaw P6 regarding public demonstration the use of force,” said Fo Niemi.

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He is also concerned that the actions of certain police officers during the protests made many Montrealers lose faith in their police force.

READ MORE: Controversial Montreal police officer – Badge 728 – arrested

Proving racial profiling is tough
Cases of racial profiling are often very hard to prove.

“This is an electronic information society.”

Legal experts are advising people to pull out their phones and take pictures or video when intercepted by police.

“This is electronic information society and people should do that because, possibly, that’s the best way to enhance accountability,” said Niemi.

He also suggests that people must be careful to not interfere with the police operation because they could face obstruction of justice charges.

Damiano Raveenthiran has a few pictures of his encounter with police last March.

It may be the only evidence he has to prove that he was a victim of racial profiling.

“I was affected by a mistake that someone made and someone should be held accountable,” said Raveenthiran, who has since returned to Concordia University to finish his last semester.