Rosie Awori (LJI)
For the past five years complaints about racial profiling by the Repentigny police force (Service de police de la Ville de Repentigny or SPVR.) have been increasing.
Things are getting to the point where family disputes or minor conflicts among neighbour in the town have opted to handle amongst themselves rather than call the police, such is the fear of being injured or worse, being killed by a member of the Repentigny force.
That fear is heightened by repeated incidences of police brutality in the town, which is situated off-island on the north eastern tip of the island, about 45 minutes out of Montreal. It has a population of about 90,000 with an increasing Black presence.
In the most recent incident, the mother of Jean René Junior Olivier who was in the throes of a mental health crisis called the police for help. They came, saw the 27 year old holding a knife and shot him three times, killing him on the spot.
The investigation into that incident is on-going.
Over the past four years, the Quebec’s Human Rights Commission has received nine complaints about racial profiling by the Repentigny police.
In July, the commission found that Repentigny police had racially profiled Leslie Blot when officers handcuffed him in 2017. Blot said two police officers pulled up and questioned him because he was sitting in the passenger seat of his friend’s car blowing up an inflatable children’s toy.
The officers said they questioned him because the car was not from Repentigny however, it was registered in Laval which is 30 minutes away. Blot was then arrested, handcuffed, and given four tickets totalling over $700.
His case is the fourth time the commission has ruled against the city. Repentigny has yet to compensate him, despite the findings. Blot, who has since moved to a different city, said Repentigny police would stop him on average once a month, usually for so-called routine verifications of his ID while driving.
“I find it pretty strange that it’s only people who look like me (who get stopped),’’ he is quoted as saying.
There has been repeated call for the department to collect race based data on police stops.
Ted Rutland, a professor at Concordia University, was quoted as saying that the anti-gun squad recently formed by Montreal police is 42 times more likely to arrest Black people than white people.
He came to this conclusion after analysing arrest reports.
Rutland believes there is a link between allegations of police racial profiling and the formation of squads that disproportionately target communities of colour. In his report, he points to the timing of anti-police violence protests in Montreal in the 1980s and the police force’s sudden focus on eliminating street gangs.
In a judgment handed down last month, the commission ruled the city of Montreal and the three officers pay François Ducas, a Black man of Haitian descent, a total of $35,000.
“I’m happy that it’s finally over,” Ducas, quoted as saying. “It’s been almost three years and I hope things will get better.”
He teaches French at École secondaire L’Horizon, in Repentigny, was pulled over in his BMW on his way to work in December 2017.
He told the commission that police officers Stéphanie Gazaille and Deborah St-Sauveur made a U-turn and followed him for two kilometres before pulling him over.
In its Consultation Report on Racial Profiling, the HRC recommended that municipalities institute measures aimed at restoring the confidence of Black communities, indigenous peoples, and racialized minorities in police services.
However, In Repentigny, the relationship between police and Blacks is becoming increasingly untenable.
Two years ago, after witnessing nine complaints of abuse of authority in in six months, Fo Niemi director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations pointed to what appears to be “ a serious problem of systemic anti-black racism in Repentigny. It looks like black men are being hunted down by the police in this municipality.”
The SPVR has only three visible minorities in its force of about 125 officers.