Stop Racial Profiling

For decades, Montreal has been known as a swinging city, a bastion for people who want to live and let live. The city was considered so open minded, so averse to racism and prejudice that it was chosen as the site where famed black baseball player Jackie Robinson would first play professionally.

Perhaps it is because of Montreal’s reputation that the case of Fredy Villanueva is so disturbing. In August 2008, Montreal Policeman Jean Loup Lapointe shot Villanueva in Montreal North, one of the city’s most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods.

Villanueva’s case has raised some troubling allegations of systemic racial profiling in the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal that have gained credence through several studies conducted following Villanueva’s death.
Finally, there seems to be some good news on the horizon. Despite the efforts of lawyers working on behalf of the city, two documents have not only been made public, but will be included as evidence in the coroner’s inquest into Villanueva’s death.

Both reports were commissioned by the SPVM after riots erupted in Montreal North the day after Villanueva’s death.
Of the two, the one conducted by criminologist Mathieu Charest has the most relevant data. After going through 170,000 police documents, Charest found that, of the youth stopped and interviewed by the SPVM, 40 percent were black. This is not just slightly above proportionate. In the areas involved in the study, blacks make up less than half of the population and commit less than 20 percent of the crimes.

The second document, a study conducted by psychologist Martin Courcy, also contains some troubling information. Based on interviews with 63 visible minority youths, the study found that many of them endure small acts of racism from the police on a daily basis, including racial slurs and ticketing for minor infractions like jaywalking.

While the law is the law, how many among us jaywalk on a daily basis? How many of us yell on the street, another fineable offense? The police want to be respected, but that street goes both ways.

The police have a tough job to do and we appreciate them when they are doing it well. However, it is not beyond reason to demand that they serve every inhabitant of the city, no matter what colour, creed or religion. Would it be too much to ask that we not publicly fund racial oppression?

Hopefully these reports will help the police higher-ups, and the city as a whole, understand the extent of the problem and act to eradicate it. These reports won’t bring Fredy Villanueva back but they are a good first step in a process that will hopefully make him the last fatality associated with ethnic profiling.

—Adam Kovac,
Features Editor

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 08, published October 5, 2010.