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Anti-racism group wants Montreal police to review street check policy

Red Coalition says it wants the SPVM to collect more race-based data
CBC News · Posted: Jul 08, 2023 1:51 PM EDT | Last Updated: July 8

Cyrus Senior was left speechless when a Montreal police officer pulled him over last month. Standing beside his vehicle, the officer told him he had been driving at an "unusual time." 
It was around 2:30 a.m. on Friday June 23, according to the 27-year-old. He was on his way home, driving through the neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce after performing a DJ set at a high school prom.
After initially walking away, the officer told Senior that the car he was driving — his mother's — was registered under a woman's name, which was also reason enough to pull him over, Senior said during a news conference Friday. 
Although Senior, who is Black, found the officer's reasoning strange, he says he was more focused on going through a mental checklist he follows every time he interacts with police: keep your hands visible, be respectful, do everything you're asked.
"I was only frustrated after the fact when I was able to take it all in," he said. "In the moment I didn't think it was a big thing because it happens to me a lot."
The anti-racism group Red Coalition says Senior's case is another example of how police street checks can be informed by racial profiling. Alain Babineau, who is the coalition's director on issues of racial profiling and public safety as well as a retired RCMP officer, says he wants the SPVM to modify its policy on street checks.
Currently, officers can carry out a street check based on observable facts, in other words, at their discretion. Instead, Babineau says officers should meet the legal standard of reasonable doubt that a crime has been or will be committed before randomly stopping a civilian.
"Who will police the police? That's the question," said Babineau during Friday's news conference. 
At the end of each street check, the SPVM officer should issue a receipts to the civilian that would include the officer's badge number and the civilian's race or ethnicity, he says. Currently, officers are only required to fill out an internal document with those details if the information collected is considered of interest to the police force's mission.
Babineau's comments come a few weeks after researchers published a report on street checks by the SPVM and racial profiling. That report found that between 2014 and 2021, Indigenous people were six times more likely to be stopped than white people, Black people were 3.5 times more likely to be stopped and Arab people, 2.6 times.
It concluded there was no decrease in profiling after Montreal police created its first and only policy on street checks in 2020, which aimed to reduce officers' power to stop people at random. 
"The impact of this racial profiling is not only on the individual, on the victim. It's on his family. It's on his community and also on the legitimacy of the police service as a whole" said Babineau.
Senior says that he hopes speaking out about his recent experience will prevent something worse from happening to someone else in the future. 
According to him, the SPVM officer let him go that Thursday night in late June, but not before telling Senior that he could have issued a ticket if he wanted to.
The SPVM told CBC in a statement that it does not comment on specific cases and that anyone who feels like they were wronged by the police force can submit a complaint to an independent organization. 
Senior says he's been randomly stopped by police a handful of times over the last few years and that he knows this isn't the lived experience of his non-Black friends. 
"The fact that I'm numb to this says a lot," said Senior.
"I don't know what it's going to take to change this," he says. "I shouldn't be scared to drive past a police car. I shouldn't be holding my breath."

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