Back in 2018, for the first time in the city’s history, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) released data regarding street checks to independent researchers. On October 7, the results of that research report, commissioned by the city of Montreal, were published – and while the results weren’t unexpected, they paint a stark picture of the relationship between the city police and visible minorities.
Specifically, the report shows that Montreal police are four to five times more likely to perform street checks on Indigenous (17.9%) or Black people (16.5%) when compared to the general population. That number balloons to 11-times more likely for Indigenous women. It also showed the street checks for Latinos (5.7%) were significantly higher than for Caucasians (3.9%).
According to Massimiliano Mulone, a criminologist at the Université de Montréal, who co-authored the report with UQAM sociologist Victor Armony and Université TÉLUQ sociologist Mariam Hassaoui, it would have been more surprising if the data had showed no racial disparity in street checks.
“There have been several reports in the last few years about racial profiling and racial bias by the city’s police,” explained Mulone. “At the same time, all of Canada’s major cities have conducted similar research on their police with similar results.”
However, the report stops short of characterizing the racial disparity in the data as racial profiling on the police’s part.
“In the report we used the word racial profiling on several occasions,” Mulone told the Nation. “But to label it racial profiling, we need to know the reason behind the stops. The way the data was recorded didn’t allow for us to make that deeper analysis.”
The information released to the researchers was from 2014-2017, and the year of study that went into the report only tracked numbers – no interviews were conducted with either police officers or citizens who were stopped for the period in question.
“What we can conclude from the data is that there was a clear systemic bias,” Mulone continued. “We want to conduct further research to understand the motives behind the police’s interactions with these populations.”
At a press conference held after the report was published, Montreal Police Chief Sylvain Caron acknowledged there was a problem.
However, a Montreal city councillor of North African descent, Abdelhaq Sari, was barred from attending the same press briefing.
A video of the incident shows Sari, the vice-chairman of the city’s public security committee, being stopped by police as he attempts to enter the room. In the video, Sari can be seen screaming at police.
Mulone acknowledged the irony of the episode but chose to focus on the positives.
“I was in the room, I heard the yelling, but I don’t know what happened in that interaction,” noted Mulone. “But what I did see is, for the first time the police have acknowledged that there is a bias based on racial identity. It is a big step from my point of view.”
The report, titled Les interpellations policières à la lumière des identités racisées des personnes interpellées (“Police checks in the light of the racialized identities of those being checked”), made five recommendations:
- The SPVM should create a street check policy.
- The SPVM should produce and publish an annual statistical report that keeps track of how often Indigenous people and visible minorities are stopped by police.
- The SPVM should develop additional procedures to monitor racial profiling.
- The SPVM should evaluate every program, practice and plan by its impact on racial profiling (negative or positive).
- The SPVM should continue to train police officers on preventing systemic discrimination, while focusing, in particular, on the Indigenous population.
At the press conference Caron said that a policy for street checks – which currently doesn’t exist – would be implemented by March 2020. He also stated that the researchers would be asked to continue their investigation into the “systemic bias” of city police officers.