Community groups call out PM for comments on police stops and racial profiling

The day after a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that random police stops on the road are illegal, lead to racial profiling and violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the province’s premier intervened.

What he said did not sit well with members of the black community.

Last Wednesday, François Legault acknowledged that racial profiling was a problem while suggesting that there should not be too many limits on random police stops.

“When we talk about random arrests, we have to understand that we need police officers to do their job,” Legault said in French.

“When you see the violence there is in Montreal, in certain neighborhoods… I have complete confidence in the police and it is important to support them.”

On Monday, several community group leaders came together to denounce Legault’s comments as polarizing, hurtful and negligent. They say the ruling was clear on the illegitimacy of random motor vehicle stops.

Frantz Voltaire, a Montreal filmmaker, said Legault’s vocal support for police when he spoke about the decision could have a detrimental effect on groups most likely to be arrested by officers.

“It could cause some officers to continue behaving illegally,” Voltaire said. “He shouldn’t have taken that position. It’s a position that makes it difficult for different groups to coexist on the island as we once again stigmatize black communities.”

Voltaire also said that the prime minister’s statement gave the impression that respecting the work of police officers was incompatible with respecting the rights of citizens.

Jean Fils-Aimé, host at CPAM Radio, said the prime minister should act in a way that shows he is the prime minister of all Quebecers. (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada)

Jean Fils-Aimé, director of programs at radio station CPAM, said a prime minister should not be so quick to raise questions about a court ruling unless he knows where he stands and sure that the government will appeal.

“Until you appealed these decisions, we expected the Prime Minister to act like a true statesman, rise above the fray and, for once, speak like the first minister of all [Quebecers].”

First “must live in the real world”

On several occasions, Fils-Aimé referred to several comments Legault has made in the past, including controversial comments during the Quebec election campaign earlier this month.

In September, Legault linked immigration to “extremism” and “violence,” but later apologized. He also said bringing over 50,000 new immigrants a year would be “a little suicidal”.

The Prime Minister appeared to reference those comments during his victory speech on election night Oct. 3, when he said the election campaigns were divisive and pledged to move forward and to be “the prime minister of all Quebecers”.

Fils-Aimé said members of racialized communities want to feel at home in Quebec, but Legault’s challenging a court ruling related to racial profiling doesn’t help.

Joan Lee, president of the West Island Black Community Association, said she regularly hears mothers say they fear their sons will be harmed or killed if arrested by the police.

“I think our prime minister needs sensitivity training and he needs to live in the real world, in the world that we live in,” Lee said.

A man speaks into a microphone.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Quebec Premier Francois Legault said the province takes the fight against racial profiling seriously, but stressed that police need tools to fight crime. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

In a statement, Ewans Sauves, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said: “Mr. Legault clearly said last week, in his response, that we must continue to fight against racial profiling.

He said the province had invested nearly $1 million in police training and also pointed to the province’s street enforcement policy, which mirrored that unveiled by Montreal police the same year.

“We must also support our police officers. They do essential work in sometimes difficult conditions. They must have all the tools at their disposal to prevent crime,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s a long decision. We will take the time to analyze it well.”

In his decision, Judge Michel Yergeau granted a six-month delay until the rules allowing random stops are officially invalid. The decision only applies in the province of Quebec.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Five raised fists with different skin colors for the Being Black in Canada logo.
(Radio Canada)

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