Quebec’s Human Rights Commission has ruled that three Repentigny, Que., police officers racially profiled a Black high school teacher when they stopped and arrested him in 2017.
François Ducas was driving to work in his BMW in December 2017 when police pulled him over.
He asked why he was being stopped, and the officers handcuffed and searched him. He was issued two tickets, one for obstructing police work and the other for insulting an officer.
The tickets were later dismissed.
“Never in my life did I think I would be handcuffed like a criminal one morning on my way to work in Quebec,” Ducas said. He said following this incident, he’s lost all confidence in the police.
After filing a complaint with the help of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), the Human Rights Commission ruled that the City of Repentigny and the three officers should pay him $35,000 in moral and punitive damages.
On Saturday, Ducas told CBC he’s pleased the commission ruled in his favour, but it could be years before a binding decision is made by the province’s human rights tribunal.
Still, he said the process has been worthwhile because he’s standing up for the Black community.
“Black people are afraid of police in Repentigny,” he said, adding that many are reluctant to come forward with complaints.
“I accept to carry the torch and speak out for those people, to stand up,” he added. “Now the ball is in the city’s court, and they’re going to continue to deny [that there’s a problem] but we will continue to make enough noise to be heard.”
Lison Ostiguy, deputy head of the strategy and prevention division for the Repentigny police, told CBC the city has appealed the decision.
In her statement, Ostiguy said the city is trying to be “proactive” in its efforts to address racial profiling, including building a police force that is “more inclusive, diversified and close to its population and community.”
The city also recently hired a consulting firm to help it follow through on those goals.
“We are not waiting for the outcome of current cases of alleged racial profiling or future allegations in order to take action,” Ostiguy wrote.
“Over the past few years, we have increased the number of initiatives seeking to bring the police service closer to the diversity of its population. Today we acknowledge that we still have work to do.”
Advocates, however, have been critical of the plan, saying it does not acknowledge there is a problem that needs solving.
Fo Niemi, the head of CRARR, said he hopes decisions like the one made by the human rights commission will create financial pressure that ultimately leads to change.
“The bills are going to start piling up, and sooner or later taxpayers are going to say, ‘Is this really how I want my money to be spent by the city?'”
Niemi also said Ducas’s case is just one example of discrimination against the Black community in Repentigny, a suburb east of Montreal.
“So many Black men of different age groups have complained of abusive police practices, stops and arrests, and fines, so obviously there’s something there,” Niemi said.
“It’s not just about sensitizing or community, or public relations, it’s about comprehensive, systemic review of policies and practices, of ways of doing things that lead to all these complaints that have been filed.”