Blue Line

Montreal police chief rejects street check moratorium despite racial profiling data

June 22, 2023  By The Canadian Press

June 22, 2023, Montreal, Que. – Montreal’s police chief is refusing to impose a moratorium on street checks despite a second independent report concluding that racialized people are disproportionately targeted by the practice.

Fady Dagher made the comments Thursday after he released an independent report by researchers from several Quebec universities who recommended he temporarily suspend random police stops. A moratorium would be purely symbolic, he said, adding that he preferred “constant small steps” to address racial profiling and ensure police street checks respect residents’ rights.

“I know I’m going to create some disappointment,” the police chief said of his decision to reject the moratorium. “But I don’t want to announce a symbolic measure. I want to solve the deep problem at the roots.”

Researchers looked at 2021 data and found that Indigenous Montrealers were six times more likely to be stopped than were white people in the city. The data showed that Black people were three-and-a-half times more likely to be stopped than were white people, and Arabs were two-and-a-half times more likely to be stopped by police compared with white people.

A 2019 report by the same researchers, looking at data between 2014 and 2017, identified similar inequalities, which they said pointed to the existence of “systemic biases” in the police force.

In response, the Montreal police developed a new policy in 2020 that banned street checks “based on discriminatory criteria” and required officers to explain their reasons for stopping citizens, among other measures aimed at reducing racial disparities.

The researchers, who were mandated by Montreal police to conduct the two studies, concluded in Tuesday’s report that the policy did not have the intended effect. The four researchers are from Universite du Quebec a Montreal, McGill University, Universite de Montreal, and Universite TELUQ.

Dagher said it was worrying there was no real change in statistics since 2014 and recognized the existence of systemic racism within the force. He committed to what he called the “long and difficult task” of addressing it and to implementing the recommendations in Thursday’s report to reduce the risk of racial profiling during police stops.

Reacting to the latest report, Fo Niemi, director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, called the persistent racial disparities in police stops “worrying” and said the data proves there are shortcomings in the Montreal police street check policy. He encouraged the city to continue to work with affected communities to “develop more effective ways of achieving the collective objectives of preventing crime and protecting public safety without discrimination.”

The non-profit Quebec Native Women praised Dagher for recognizing systemic racism. Its president, Marjolaine Etienne, said she hopes his remarks will “pave the way for other decision-makers and institutions to finally take the step and recognize the existence of systemic racism and discrimination in Quebec.”

Quebec Public Security Minister Francois Bonnardel introduced a bill in March to address racial profiling during police checks.

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