Montreal, March 19, 2015 --- Four Black witnesses who filed complaints of racial bias and other police misconduct are worth less than the reports filed by the two white officers who were implicated in a violent arrest of two Black youths for jaywalking.
This is how four members of a South Shore English-speaking Black family react after learning that the Police Ethics Commissioner has dismissed their complaints against two officers of the Longueuil Police.
The family also believes that the Commissioner dismissed the complaint to avoid addressing the issue of whether Longueuil police officers are not required by law to communicate in English to citizens whom they arrest and who are residents of officially designated bilingual municipalities.
In November 2013, at around 1:00 am, two police officers violently arrested two young Black males who were walking home from a bus stop in Brossard, for jaywalking. Both youths, who do not understand French, kept asking for the reason of their arrest to be explained in English, but no explanation was given. After roughing them up, the officers handcuffed the youths and took them home.
When Mr. Shane James, the partner of the youths' mother, opened the door for the police, the officer walked into the home with one of the handcuffed youths, without introducing himself to Mr. James, asking for permission to enter, or explaining what was going on. Instead, he walked straight by Mr. James and started searching around the house with his flashlight.
When the youth's mother, Ms. Dominique Jacobs, came downstairs, the officer rudely asked her for the youth's ID and told her to “calm the F- down” when she was asking for explanations. It was only then that the family learned the youths were arrested for jaywalking. After the officers uncuffed the youths and got ready to leave the house, Ms. Jacobs asked the officer for his name and badge number. He angrily told her to “shut the F-up.”
With CRARR's help, all four family members filed complaints with the Police Ethics Commissioner and the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, claiming race and language discrimination, unprofessional and impolite conduct, illegal arrest, illegal search, and excessive force.
In June 2014, the family faced their first hurdle from the Police Ethics Commissioner's office when it dismissed all of the complaints except the one citing the officer's use of the F word. Based on “the relevant operational documents,” Deputy Commissioner Hélène Tremblay wrote that “the police officers involved recorded in their report concurring, exculpatory versions both for the reasons justifying their intervention and the methods used to conduct it, including the use of force.”
“We found … no objective and concurring element to support the complainants' claims,” she wrote. Regarding the F word, she ruled that “the reported behaviors are not, according to the aforementioned jurisprudence, sufficiently characterized to constitute breaches of ethics.”
Finally, “in Quebec, the official working language is French … a peace officer is under no legal obligation to communicate with a citizen in English,” wrote Deputy Commissioner Tremblay.
CRARR helped Ms. Jacobs and Mr. James file for review, citing the officers' legal obligation when detaining and arresting a suspect, including the obligation to ensure that the suspect understands the charges. The Longueuil Police Department's hiring criteria, which includes a working knowledge of English (the LPD serves a significant English-speaking population of Saint-Lambert, Brossard and the Greenfield Park borough). Subsequently, the Commissioner reversed the Deputy Commissioner's decision and sent the complaints to conciliation, which took place in November 2014. After conciliation, only the officer who used the F word was retained in the complaints.
Last month, the Deputy Commissioner again dismissed the complaints and refused to send them to investigation, on the basis of the conciliator's report and that “the affected police officer provided a concurring, exculpatory version of the allegations made in the complaint ... we are not in a position to demonstrate by preponderance the complainant's allegations.”
“By reaching that decision, the Police Ethics Commissioner has proven that he cannot provide protection for Anglophone Black people like us from abusive police misconduct,” said Ms. Jacobs. “The Commissioner effectively considers four Black people's testimonies to be of lesser value than the written reports of two white police officers. ”
“The Commissioner is setting a very bad example. It's hard to convince your young Black child that he can trust the police. And I did that. He was convinced. Do you think he trusts the police or the Police Ethics Commissioner now with this decision? Not at all.”
“The total absence of representation of Black and Anglophone decision-makers in the police ethics system is also a barrier to real protection of people like us,” she added.
For Ms. Judith Austin, President of the South Shore Black Community Association, “Racial profiling has eroded the trust between the Black community and the Longueuil and Montreal Police. These incidents of racial bias must be taken seriously by our Leaders at the Provincial and Municipal Government levels. They must be able to state without any ambiguity zero tolerance for any behavior of racial profiling amongst their officers.”
“This is not a Black problem but a problem for our multicultural society. Recent events in the United States cast a shadow on certain police practices there, such as ticketing minorities to boost revenue for the City. Is this also happening here in our urban centres? We need to investigate these ongoing occurrences and develop a strategy to reduce the tension of the community that is building with each new complaint of racial profiling or racial discrimination in policing.”
“We call upon Deputy Premier and Public Security Minister Lise Thériault to not only review the case and the police ethics system, but to meet with the leaders in the Black community, to hear our grievances, and to work towards a model for community-based policing,” she added.
“This decision reflects systemic problems within the police ethics system, notably due to s. 192 of the Quebec Police Act (which allows officers cited in complaints to not cooperate with the Commissioner's investigation), and difficulties in addressing race discrimination in policing,” noted CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi, pointing at the Commissioner's lack of a policy on racial profiling.
A 2011 report of the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission recommended the abrogation of s. 192.