Quebec to appeal ruling that was greeted as victory in fight against racial profiling

Click to play video: 'Montreal police hold public consultation on new street check policy'
Montreal police hold public consultation on new street check policy
Montreal's public security commission held a public consultation on the police department's new street check policy. This was an opportunity for the population to learn and give their opinion on police practices. As Phil Carpenter reports, the SPVM is the first police organization in Quebec to adopt such a policy – Sep 1, 2020

The Quebec government said Friday it will appeal a landmark Superior Court ruling that bans random police stops, because the province said the court decision deprives police of an important tool.

Last month, Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau decided that a common law rule allowing police to stop motorists without suspicion that an offence had been committed “paves the way” for racial profiling. That rule, the judge said, violates three sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: the right to life, liberty and security of person; the protection against arbitrary detention; and the guarantee of equality under the law.

Public Security Minister François Bonnardel said Friday, “We consider it unjustified to abolish such an important (tool) for police forces.”

“We believe there is a better way to use it.”

However, Bonnardel said that while the government supports the police, “the status quo is unacceptable.” In response, he announced new measures to prevent racial profiling by police. Officers will receive continuous training on discrimination and racial profiling, he said, the province will fund progressive policing projects, and it will make the police ethics complaints process more accessible.

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The lawsuit was brought by Joseph-Christopher Luamba, a 22-year-old Black Montrealer who said he had been stopped by Quebec police nearly a dozen times without reason. None of those stops resulted in a ticket. The Superior Court ruling overturned rules established in a 1990 Supreme Court decision that found random stops were the only way to determine whether drivers are properly licensed, whether a vehicle’s seatbelts work or whether a driver is impaired.

Yergeau also struck down a section of Quebec’s Highway Safety Code — Article 636 — that relies on the common law power. The judge’s decision, however, does not affect structured police programs, such as roadside checkpoints aimed at stopping drunk drivers.

Yergeau suspended the application of his ruling for six months to give police forces time to adapt, but he maintained that profiling exists. “Racial profiling does exist. It is not a laboratory-constructed abstraction ? It is a reality that weighs heavily on Black communities. It manifests itself in particular with Black drivers of motor vehicles,” Yergeau wrote in his ruling.

Christopher Skeete, the minister responsible for fighting racism, said the government intends to hold consultations in the coming weeks with those affected by racial profiling. “We are aware the line is thin between giving police officers the tools they need to do their work and our deep desire to eliminate racial profiling in society with our police force,” Skeete said.

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Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, said he wasn’t surprised by the appeal. “Even though we regret the fact the government appealed, it was expected right from outset because we think the case could go to the Supreme Court (of Canada) eventually,” Niemi said.

The decision to appeal was condemned by opposition parties at the legislature. Andres Fontecilla, the racism critic for Quebec solidaire, called the appeal tantamount to admitting that racial profiling is acceptable in the province.

Fontecilla said the government’s appeal goes against the recommendations of its own anti-racism group, which proposed putting an end to random stops. “It’s a huge slap in the face for all racialized people, especially for Black communities in Quebec.”

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