A recent investigation report recently produced by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission on a case of race and disability discrimination has once again raised questions about the Commission’s troubling handling of complaints.
The case involves a then 12-year-old English Black girl with intellectual disabilities, including dyslexia, who was mistreated by the bus driver as she was asking for directions and was then violently taken off the bus by two Montreal police officers who were responding to the bus supervisor’s report of a “dame aggressive.”
The case was widely publicized in June 2012. CRARR filed a complaint against the Montreal Transit Authority (STM) and its bus driver and supervisor, and another complaint against the Montreal Police Service (SPVM) and the two police officers.
After more than two years years of investigation, the Commission produced an investigation report that raises serious questions of procedural fairness and competency on what is known as intersectional discrimination. The report reveals disturbing flaws with the investigation:
❏ The investigation was language-blind, despite the fact that the child and her mother are English-speaking. There is no information on the SPVM and STM staff’s English-language fluency and whether or how language was a factor in the incident;
❏ The two police officers were never interviewed by the Commission. Yet the Commission chose to rely on the testimony of a SPVM supervisor, who was not present on the day of the incident in question, to opine on the videotaped images of the incident and justify the officers’ use of force on the child;
❏ Several bus riders who are female, English-speaking or racialized, who were on the bus at the time of the incident, and who were willing to witnesses to testify in favor of the girl, were never contacted for the investigation;
❏ Despite the relevance of the child’s disabilities in the incident, no questions were asked about the training and skills of police officers, the bus driver and the supervisor in dealing with people with disabilities. In addition, ableist language was used in the report to describe the child’s disabilities;
❏ Race dimensions were overlooked, including the failure to probe how a 12-year old, five-foot tall Black child was reported by the STM staff as a “dame” and a “young woman”, and why none of the STM and SPVM employees involved listened to other bus riders who tried to explain the child’s situation;
❏ In spite of the supervisor’s statement referring to previous problems between bus drivers and students from the girl’s school, Lauren Hill Academy, the investigation ignored this background information and social context of the incident. No information was provided regarding a possible history of conflict between racialized students of the school and bus drivers, which might have helped explain the driver’s response to the girl’s request for assistance.
“I am very concerned that the deck is obviously stacked in favor of the STM and the SPVM, and the stage is set for the Commission's dismissal of my daughter’s case,” noted the girl’s mother. “Who must be held ultimately accountable for all these flaws? Is there someone in charge in that agency?”
CRARR has filed 11 pages of comments and questions about the flaws and the findings of the investigation. It is now up to the Complaints Committee composed of 3 Commissioners to decide on the case.
Problems in handling intersectional discrimination in this case are similar to those faced by an Arab medical student who claims discrimination based on race intersecting with mental disability, leading to his failure and expulsion from medical school. After two years of investigation, the Commission produced a factual report that only focuses more on race than on disability. The investigator even failed to gather the student’s full medical history, the university’s policy and record on disability, and left out important evidence of repeated biased evaluations of the student’s internship at one particular health center. Eight months after CRARR raised concerns about the investigation report, the status of the file remains unknown.
The Commission has for years avoided the adoption of detailed policies and guidelines on investigating complaints of systemic racism and intersectional discrimination.
Many racialized and other ethnic complainants will go public about the Commission’s handling of complaints of racism, in the Fall, to call for major changes at the top.
The judicial review coupled with the $15,000 lawsuit filed in Superior Court by a Black victim of police brutality against the Commission for negligence, deliberate ignorance of case law, and improper handling of his racial profiling complaint, will also be heard this Fall. In this case, the Commission dismissed the case of a Black man who suffered “minor” body contusions caused by excessive force during an arrest by the Montreal Police, since the Commission deemed that these contusions did not constitute physical injuries, despite a Court of Appeal ruling to the contrary - which the Commission even refers to in its own guidelines on investigating racial profiling.
In October 2015, CRARR will address some of these issues at the conference held by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal and the Quebec Bar to mark the 25th anniversary of the Tribunal.