Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Montreal Police Go Beyond Racial Profiling

Last week the Quebec Human Right Commission took the Montreal Police force to task for being guilty of racial profiling in relation to the treatment of Montreal's ethnics, especially the Black community. The report made 93 specific recommendations to eliminate the problem. Link 
While the story made the front page news, there were no surprises, the police themselves admit to the practice and every time the issue flares up, the higher echelons of the force, fob off the public with platitudes and promises to do better, followed by no remedial action whatsoever.

I've written about it before and caught some flak when I entitled my blog piece, Canada's Most Racist Police Force, which you can read to get a sense of how deep the problem is.
I take the Human Rights Commission report as a measure of vindication.

But there's a lot more than racial profiling going on in the Montreal Police and it's a problem that is much, much, more sinister than what is being reported.

For years, I enjoyed a close relationship with the highest members of the Montreal Police, including the chief and his assistant directors. I wasn't a cop but enjoyed the freedom to explore certain aspects of the department operations when I was asked to offer a consulting opinion on several logistical aspects of the way the force was run. I spoke freely, with captains and lieutenants, discussing their work and got to know many of them personally at golf tournaments or through the charity work that many senior members of the force engage in.
I generally like the men and women who serve and can say that they honestly do the best they can, subject to the constraints placed upon them by union demands and budgetary constraints.

But at all levels of the department, there's a sense of "Us versus them" and I'm not talking about criminals versus police. There is a persecution complex that is part of the department culture, a shared belief that the public, the press and the politicians are against them.

When senior management is called to task by outside forces, there is an automatic reaction that moves to deflect or neutralize the perceived attack. And so the report by the Human Rights Commission will likely be 'handled' with little serious effort applied to redress any problem.
It's the way of the police, in Montreal anyway.

The reason the Montreal police resist change is because they believe their methods work, which is why they are loathe to give up racial profiling.

Profiling versus Racial Profiling
First let's be clear about what legitimate and illegitimate profiling is.
We've all watched cop shows where the use of a 'Profiler,' is enlisted to help catch that ever elusive serial killer. This criminologist makes predictions as to who that killer may be based on scientific methods and experience. The profiler, might instruct the police that the murderer is likely to be a white male, between twenty and forty years old and someone who lives alone. We've all heard the pitch.
That is profiling, making assumptions in lieu of hard evidence.
 
When short of hard facts, we all engage in a sort of profiling, making assumptions about people based on our own experience and preconceptions.
We see a skateboarder in  punk dress rolling down the street and we comfortably assume his musical taste doesn't include Anne Murray. That's profiling.

Police rely on profiling of this type to apply the law every day.
A man going into a bank on a hot July afternoon, wearing a heavy overcoat immediately attracts the attention of a passing police officer.
A teenager of tender age, at the wheel of a $100,000 Mercedes, late at night, is stopped by police to verify if the youth is on a joy ride.
Even though police have no specific knowledge that any crime is in progress or is being contemplated, most of us would support an intervention based on this type of profiling.

But RACIAL PROFILING is a horse of a different colour. It makes assumptions based on race, not on the unfolding scenario.
A good example is that of a black man being pulled over because he is driving an expensive car. The police assume that there is a high probability that the man is carrying drugs or otherwise involved in crime, because experience has taught them that few black people other than criminals can afford to drive such a car.
The Montreal police freely admit to profiling based on race and justify their actions by claiming that it cuts down crime.
While that may be true, most of us don't accept racial profiling as a justifiable police method.
Obviously if police could do whatever they want, crime would go down.  If they didn't need judicial authority for a search warrant or a wiretap, or were allowed to stop, detain and search people at will, we might very likely have a lower crime rate, but at a cost to our liberty.
Reasonable people agree that reducing crime in this way is not worth giving up our personal freedom and expectation of privacy, so we put constraints on how and when the police may intervene. Racial profiling as a police tool, has long been consigned to the trash heap of history, at least officially.

While the Human Rights Commission complains about racial profiling, they touch on, but fail to address a more sinister problem in the Montreal Police department. The police have embarked on a dark campaign of intimidation and harassment of the entire Black community, based on the wrong-headed notion that by keeping the community on edge, off balance and in fear of the police, crime will somehow go down.

It is called 'ROUSTING," something that I learned about in my interaction with the force.

Rousting is a campaign of deliberate and highly directed intimidation and harassment, directed at known criminal elements. It goes way beyond racial profiling. It is legal and effective, but sometimes dangerous. When wrongly applied to a community as a whole, it can have devastating consequences.

Tomorrows post will detail how the Montreal Police have engaged in this organized and egregious attack on the Black community and we'll draw a lesson about the effects of such a policy in the unlikeliest of places- Afghanistan!

9 comments:

  1. Actually, I live in Peel Region. Between local municipal and provincial government, at least in the Greater Toronto Area, are regional government administrations that handle certain services, mostly police, fire and ambulatory services. Peel Region consists the Cities of Mississauga, Brampton and East Caledon. York Region is immediately north of Toronto.

    Anyway, of the regional police, Peel has a poor reputation for harassment as well. I've been pulled over, but not harassed. Non-whites here have another opinion.

    I have a friend going back to high school who was severely manhandled by the Montreal police for not having paid a fine late for parking his bicycle on the grass in a park (nutso by-law!) The police somehow didn't update their records indicating he finally paid his fine, so they threw him bodily against, and then into a cruiser and whisked him away to pay again because he couldn't find his receipt for his previous payment. He was white and Jewish, by the way.

    While this tactic may be "legal", what good does it do to pit a community against the police? It creates war! Hate makes war. What do those constabulary nincompoops have to gain in all this?

    If I recall correctly, the Chief of Police in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was featured on TV for relieving the tensions between the police and its citizens, after decades of rioting. He changed police tactics to calm the communities instead of create war between themselves. Maybe this guy should be hired as a consultant to calm the communities in Montreal down.

    It also doesn't help when the Quebec government openly promotes and tolerates racism against its minorities, so a government that promotes racism in its society tends to be a trend setter. As I wrote recently about Quebec, stupid is what stupid does. I guess the police are corrupt because the whole system is corrupt as per the McLean's story and plenty that followed since.

    ReplyDelete
  2. If the Toronto police were to pull over a well-dressed black guy driving quietly through Rosedale in a BMW 735i, that would be racial profiling. If police stop a black guy wearing gangsta gear driving quietly through the Jungle (a maze-like area in north-central Toronto with subsidized housing and a large concentration of welfare-receiving/low-income blacks) in a BMW 735i, is that racial profiling, or just profiling? There's a line somewhere.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Whatever the case, random spot checks are unconstitutional. Whether its for gang colours nice cars, different socioeconomic profiles in a different neighborhood . There is no real justification in pulling over vehicles without any infractions committed. In Canada we really let our law enforcement and politicians just ignore the constitution. I wonder if the Montreal police feel it would be justified for police in Westmount to question Pur laine looking Quebecois to prevent Quebecois nationalist vandalism.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Interestingly enough, I wouldn't be one targeted for racial profiling (unless anglophones are visually identifiable), but even as a clean-cut and upstanding citizen, *I* feel intimidated by Montreal police. I don't feel like they're there to protect and assist, more like they're uniformed vigilante gang members that have been deputized by the state.

    I find rather than have a dialog with people, they "bark" and order them (or push and shove, as with that elderly woman bystander who suffered a head injury being pushed into a mailbox recently!). I honestly feel uncomfortable approaching a Montreal police officer and asking for help (granted there are admittedly a few that are person-friendly, but unfortunately they do not make up the status quo).

    On the flip-side, when I visited New York City in recent times the NYPD officers were (to my great surprise!) approachable and very friendly. In fact at one point I was visibly lost, and one came up to me asked if he could help in any way. He was amicable, friendly and patiently gave me directions and wished me well. Ahh, and actually communicated in English!

    Which reminds me of a story from years ago. My father was a lawyer, he once had a case where a man minding his own business was questioned by police late at night, and when he couldn't speak French, they suddenly pushed him against their cruiser and beat him repeatably over the head with their flashlights...to the point of causing bleeding and severe head injury! The person was not a criminal, had done absolutely nothing wrong...he just profiled and could not could not communicate in French. Sure, this case goes back to the 70's but it shows what kind of thugs Montreal police can be and get away with. As you might imagine, the officers denied any wrong doing and their union protected them.

    I suppose this is all connected. Quebec's racist laws, mistreatment of animals, out of control corruption, violent and corrupt police officers, crumbling infrastructure, lack of proper health care, etc. Honestly, if you fit all the pieces together Quebec is just simply a third world corrupt republic that exists inside Canadian borders. It either needs to be forced to follow Canadian standards to not be allowed to exist in Canada at all.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I understand the notion and usefulness of heuristics, “predictions”-like techniques that rely essentially on previously-observed behavior in an attempt to predict the likelihood of future threats and opportunities, and I appreciate how it could be applied in a field such as law enforcement. However, I also recognize the necessity to be eternally vigilant to ensure that our rights and freedoms are protected. I don’t know that Quebec in particular and Canada in general are anywhere near as great as we’d like to think we are in this area, nor as bad as some others maintain we are. A certain psychological rigor is necessary to do the job day in and day out. Despite the many constraints placed upon law enforcement, it remains that much in the way of our safety and (yes, freedom) is entrusted to them.

    And I believe those to whom much is given, much ought to be expected.

    I have seen firsthand members of the Montreal police force be kind, courteous, helpful, ambivalent, nonchalant, holier-than-thou, arrogant, heavy handed, and unnecessarily physically aggressive. Does that make them unique? Hardly. I’ve seen New York cops on both ends of the spectrum. I’ve seen L.A. cops do horrible things on videotape. (I’ve also watched COPS, but more out of interest for the unwitting commentary it provides on American culture).

    Do our police officers lean more to one side of the scale than the other depending on the racial demographic you’re from? I wouldn’t know; I haven’t got enough empirical evidence to advance what I feel is a reasonable heuristic, let alone an accepted benchmark of reasonability. There’s an obvious give and take between freedoms and security, and there are about as many places you could draw the line as you can find people to draw it. The Supreme Court itself seldom if ever has a unanimous view in any human rights-related case.

    To what "corruption index" do we measure ourselves? If we are indeed living in a fool's paradise, how does one factually and unemotionally go about unmasking a particularly tenacious layer of BS?

    Our police force might not be as likely to win an award as our public transit system recently did, but to state that our cops are necessarily greater thugs than those found elsewhere is pure hokum. Video footage showing even the peaceful protesters at the G-20 summit in Toronto being roughed up by police and at times sustaining bodily injuries while being arrested and carted away is reprehensible and not worthy of a nation calling itself civilized. I don’t at all condone the rioting and damage to property – cart THOSE hoodlums away; I DO deplore indiscriminately arresting people for the purpose of muzzling their discontent, in addition to using heavily disproportionate force to do it. There is no need to point out the absurdity of armed thugs—sanctioned by the state and who behave more like above-the-law commandos than responsible guarantors of safety—all in the name of “law enforcement”.

    Forget any references to careful or layered committee processes, or the sycophantically proffered crowing about stringent internal guidelines reviews. If the attitude is rotten at the top, what makes it any better at the bottom?

    Again, I haven't got the numbers to prove anything, but even despite these, precisely how does one measure "trigger happy"?

    Many reactions to this are therefore necessarily as personal (as are mine) as they are subjective, all while attempting to measure some ideopathic objectivity.

    I think back to Toronto and interpret the events that occurred there with my own bias.

    That even Bill Blair’s career did not come to a swift and unceremonious end following the numerous gaffes that occurred on his watch during the summit is either a scathing indictment of the people he works for or the public he serves. Or possibly both.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I suppose this is all connected. Quebec's racist laws, mistreatment of animals, out of control corruption, violent and corrupt police officers, crumbling infrastructure, lack of proper health care, etc.

    Une VRAIE ville Nord américaine quoi!

    ReplyDelete
  7. @ Anon. at 10:52 PM,

    "I suppose this is all connected. Quebec's racist laws, mistreatment of animals, out of control corruption, violent and corrupt police officers, crumbling infrastructure, lack of proper health care, etc."

    Response: "Une VRAIE ville Nord américaine quoi!"


    No other North American city has racist language laws like those in Quebec.

    Quebec has the weakest animal protection laws and is the puppy mill capital of North America.

    Montreal is one of the most corrupt cities in both Canada and the U.S.

    Quebec has the infrastructure of a third world country. The roads are in a terrible state compared to those of adjacent states and provinces.

    Quebec's health care is in the worst condition of any Canadian province. More than two million people in Quebec don't even have family doctors.

    ReplyDelete
  8. ...to Apparatchik: Ahh, another philosophical soliloquy. I put the blame for the G20 s--t right on Stephen Harper's door for having the damn thing in the biggest city in Canada, or any major city in Canada for that matter.

    The whole thing should have been in Huntsville like the first part was, or some other fancy outlying resort area. This G20 crap disrupted the whole city and cost at least $2 billion, one billion on that stupid fake lake. I work for a major bank and downtown personnel had to be relocated for the few days it took place. It was expensive and took a lot of planning to do. Very brainless planning on the part of the feds.

    While Chief Blair is certainly liable for some of the blame, the whole thing was inflicted on the Ontario and Toronto government with NO help from the feds. All told, Harper is just lucky there was no worthwhile opposition otherwise he would have been at best gotten another minority government (and how about those three senate appointments, to touch on another subject?).

    ReplyDelete
  9. @Mississauga Guy

    > All told, Harper is just lucky there was no worthwhile opposition otherwise he would have been at best gotten another minority government

    Actually, what floors ME is that the GTA itself was responsible for DELIVERING Harper a majority... AFTER the Conservatives' two billion dollar boondoggle...

    You know, we spend a lot of time on this blog criticizing Quebecers for stupidly electing stupid politicians who embrace stupid philosophies, and who occasionally stand by some very stupid policies; and by and large I agree with quite a bit of that criticism because I think not enough of us are doing our homework or denouncing these slobs as well we should.

    At the same time, I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you that I disagree with the crass and boorish anglo- and franco-supremacists who clearly exist on a different plane of reality than do the rest of us in this city.

    What should surprise even you is that the expensive parties Harper decided to have right on your doorstep met with as little criticism and retribution as it did.


    > and how about those three senate appointments, to touch on another subject?

    I wish you and me both that very same brand of job security.

    ReplyDelete