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Politics ᐊ ᓃᑳᓂᔅᑭᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐊᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Critics say new Montreal police reforms don’t go far enough

BY Ben Powless Jul 31, 2020

Montreal cops announced a sweeping change July 8 to their much-criticized policy on police checks that many said unfairly targeted Indigenous and other racialized people. But critics say the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) are timid and fall far short of the police reforms that are needed.

The changes come after a series of commissions, consultations, reports and recommendations that clearly demonstrated that police perform street checks to a large degree based on a person’s racial profile.

The process began with a 2017 commission into racial and social profiling, which was followed up by a report in October 2019 that confirmed what critics have been saying for years: that the SPVM is four to five times more likely to perform street checks on Indigenous and Black people compared to the general population, and 11 times more likely to stop and question Indigenous women. 

The report culminated in a new policy that seeks to ensure that any police checks must be done with ample reason and not be discriminatory. 

Starting in the fall, officers will be required to inform individuals of the reason for a street check. Police will have to record whether they were the ones who initiated the check, or whether it came as a result of a complaint from another person or police officer. 

Police will also be required to record the race of people undergoing police checks to help them determine if there are still disparities in how different groups are treated. The policy now explicitly prohibits the police from conducting checks solely based on “ethnocultural identity, religion or social status.” Starting in September, police will also have street check coaches to advise officers on proper conduct. 

But the much-anticipated policy changes disappointed Jessica Quijano, the Iskweu Project Coordinator for the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. “We had specifically asked [the police] to stop street checks altogether,” Quijano commented in a written statement to the Nation.

Instead, she called for the police to be defunded, and for the city to reinvest in communities. 

“I do not think that this will really have much impact in the lives of Indigenous women who were stopped 11 times more by the police,” Quijano added. “The policy is vague and there is no consequence if it is not applied correctly.”

A statement released by the SPVM noted that, “Non-compliance, as with any other policy, is punishable by disciplinary action. We will evaluate new procedures and tools for dealing with individual ethnocultural profiling behaviours.” 

Montreal City Councillor Marvin Rotrand also said the new policy falls short at a press conference following the policy’s announcement. 

Rotrand later told the Nation that he wants to see police agencies admit to disproportionately targeting visible minorities and Indigenous peoples and to issue an apology. He called for an internal mechanism to allow police management to determine if officers were disproportionately targeting minorities, as well as body cameras for all frontline officers. 

This information, he added, would be released in annual report on street checks, at which time police officials would answer questions from city councillors. 

The SPVM did say that the force is not opposed to body cameras, but that such a decision should come from the city and province. 

The policy change came a day after a coalition of dozens of Montreal groups, including the Native Women’s Shelter, called for the SPVM budget to be cut in half – approximately $665 million – with the savings redirected to Black, Indigenous and other “oppressed” communities.

They also called for disarming the Montreal police, decriminalizing sex work and drugs, and eliminating street checks entirely. 

The coalition’s demands echo similar demands across North America for police defunding and restructuring that were sparked by the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by police in Minneapolis. The officer involved was later charged with murder. 

Cree artist Geoffrey Pranteau, who goes by the stage name Daybi, was at the coalition’s press conference. He said that he’s had experience dealing with the police, who he said, “can get nasty pretty quickly,” depending on the officer. 

“We need to defund the police,” Pranteau told the Nation. He said there needed to be better options than having armed police respond to mental health crises, for instance. 

“I’m hopeful and working with diligent people to make them more accountable, but we don’t expect things to change overnight.” 

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.