Quebec court rules on ‘significant’ police stops in fight against racial profiling, lawyers say
Lawyers fighting racial profiling are applauding a Quebec Superior Court ruling barring police officers across the province from carrying out motor vehicle stops without cause.
Although Judge Michel Yergeau said Tuesday that the decision will not eliminate racial profiling overnight, Quebec lawyers stress the importance of suspending the practice, known as random roving, in the fight to end discrimination.
“Racialized communities know that chance was never a part of it,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, executive director and general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA). « Their communities have been disproportionately shut down time and time again. »
“Our hope is that Quebec will lead the way and that other jurisdictions across Canada will do the same…and eliminate police power for arbitrary stops that have impacted racialized people,” he said. she stated.
The decision changes the law on roadside checks, but the new rules will only apply in six months.
Direct constitutional challenge
CCLA attorney Laura Berger called the decision, which challenges a precedent set by R. v. The Supreme Court’s 1990 sweetness of « the most impactful and far-reaching racial profiling decision » she had seen in her career.
« We’ve certainly had decisions at all levels of courts that recognize the existence of racial profiling, » she said. « But this was a direct constitutional challenge to a police power that existed under the common law and the [Highway Safety Code] In Quebec. »
Citing sources on the existence of racial profiling not only in Quebec but also across the country, Yergeau’s decision points out that the police practice violates sections 7, 9 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The first two provisions relate to the rights of individuals when interacting with the criminal justice system, and Article 15 deals with an individual’s rights to equality and equal treatment before the law.
“It is extremely significant that the judge recognized that these three provisions were violated,” she said.
Decision raises security concerns
Pierre Brochet, president of the Association of Quebec Police Chiefs (ADPQ), said in a statement Wednesday that the decision raises « very concerning » questions.
« Article 636 of the Highway Safety Code aims to protect road users by ensuring that drivers and vehicles comply with the law and established standards, » he said. « Therefore, this decision will certainly have societal repercussions on road safety. »
However, CCLA’s Mendelsohn Aviv notes that the court’s ruling only applies to arbitrary arrests without cause.
“The court has not ruled on other types of checkpoints and other types of police powers that will be available to protect the safety of everyone on the roads,” she said.
Attempts to reform interventions
The association of police chiefs says it is « very aware » of the problems of racial profiling and that several initiatives have been put in place to address it.
In December 2020, the Quebec working group against racism published a report calling for an end to random police checks without cause, but its recommendations are not legally binding.
The report suggests that police make stops based on « observable facts ».
“When not based on reasonable suspicion, police interventions can be perceived as harassment and a form of racism,” the document states.
In response to the report, Geneviève Guilbault, then Quebec’s Minister of Public Security, tabled a bill in December 2021 that would have allowed the department to establish guidelines for the police which « may relate in particular to the absence of discrimination in police activities ».
But the bill was not considered before the dissolution of the National Assembly for the provincial elections.
Nada Boumeftah, a criminal lawyer and president of the Saint-Michel legal clinic, says the decision could go to the Quebec Court of Appeal, but she hopes the decision won’t be seen as a « defeat » for the police.
« People shouldn’t think ‘the police have no power, and that’s the end of respect for the law’, » she said in an interview with Radio-Canada on Wednesday. All one morning. « When you talk about about 10% of the population getting arrested four to five times as many, it becomes very debatable, and it hasn’t lowered the crime rate. »
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said at a press conference Wednesday that the decision is in line with the values of the City of Montreal, including those of the Montreal police department.
« This judgment says very clearly and loudly that there is no place in our society for social or racial profiling, » she said.
Prime Minister Fançois Legault told reporters on Wednesday that his government would assess the « long » decision before deciding whether to appeal it.
“We are against racial profiling, but in certain neighborhoods in Montreal, we need the police to continue to do their job randomly,” he said. « It’s not about racial profiling, it’s about making sure we stop this violence in Montreal. It’s about safety. »
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.