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!