Montreal police have ‘deep problem’ with systemic discrimination, report finds

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The Montreal police force engages in systemic racial profiling that targets Arab, black and Indigenous people, a report by independent academics and commissioned by the city has found.

The standout finding in the report, released on Monday, is that Indigenous women are 11 times more likely than white women to be stopped by Montreal police. Overall, black people are four times more likely to be stopped than a white person, while Indigenous people over all are 4.61 times more likely. Police were twice as likely to stop an Arab person than a white person.

Even the release of the report itself produced an ugly incident of alleged racist exclusion. Montreal police officers blocked Abdelhaq Sari, a city councillor and vice-chair of the board that supervises the police, from attending the event. “If you want to work on racial profiling in this city, you’ve really missed your chance,” Mr. Sari, who is of North African descent, shouted at officers. Lionel Perez, the leader of the opposition in Montreal’s city council, called the incident “an aberration and symptomatic of racial profiling at the Montreal police.” The police declined to comment on the incident.

The report is one of the most exhaustive on the subject of police racial profiling in Canada. The authors compiled data from tens of thousands of incident reports from 2014 to 2017 to find “the existence of systemic bias in the treatment of certain racialized minorities.” In 2018, an Ontario Human Rights Commission report found police were far more likely to kill and injure black people than white people. In 2015, Ontario regulated street checks, also known as carding, amid mounting evidence they were used for racial profiling.

Indigenous and black advocacy groups in Montreal have been demanding action on racial profiling for years. The police force has denied a problem exists.

Monday’s report echoed the conclusions of Quebec’s inquiry on Indigenous people, which released its report last week, that found systemic discrimination against that community, including by the Sûreté du Québec.

“We’ve been telling them for years,” said Nakuset, the director of the Montreal Native Women’s Shelter in an interview. “The whole system feels like a setup for us.”

Other advocates were startled by the scope of the problem, which has not improved after a series of incidents, reports and police promises over a decade. “Something really surprising, what worries me the most, is the number of people being racially profiled has actually increased,” said Will Prosper, a human-rights activist who sits on a city round table examining diversity issues. “All the way through these years, the Montreal police have taken no measures to reduce the number of people profiled. The opposite happened. This surprises me and worries me a lot.”

The report by sociologists Victor Armory and Mariam Hassaoui and criminologist Massimiliano Mulone found police stops increased 143 per cent from 2014 to 2017, even though the level of crime in the city remained constant. Indigenous people and Arabs were particularly targeted by the increase.

The report’s authors found the force has no policy on when officers should stop people. Correcting that is the first recommendation.

The report also recommends improving data collection and using that information to produce an annual public report on racial profiling. The authors also suggest the force’s practices, policies and training need an overhaul to include measures against racial profiling.

Former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre ordered the study in 2017 after several complaints. Sylvain Caron, the chief of the Montreal police since 2018, said he accepts all the findings of the report and promised to “take concrete action related to its recommendations.

“These findings worry me greatly,” he added.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante promised to hold the chief and police force to account. “We can see there’s clearly a deep problem with systemic discrimination,” she said. “I’m satisfied the police recognize there is systemic bias in their force. … I’m asking the police to take immediate, vigorous action. They have not made this enough of a priority.”

Mr. Prosper stressed the importance of close tracking and verification so police commanders can correct officers engaging in profiling. “Right now they have zero tools to tackle it,” he said.

Nakuset, whose agency helps Indigenous women in crisis, described how one of her homeless clients received three tickets for itinerancy in a Montreal park over five hours on Saturday. “We talk to commanders about this sort of thing time and again,” she said. “We’ll see what they do this time.”