An anti-gun squad recently formed by Montreal police is 42 times more likely to arrest Black people than white people, a Concordia University associate professor discovered by analyzing arrest reports obtained through access-to-information requests.
Ted Rutland said 74 per cent of the people arrested by the squad, dubbed Quiétude, were Black people.
The analysis, outlined in a report Rutland published Thursday, also revealed only 30 per cent of the Black people the squad arrested were charged with firearms-related offences, while that number rose to 42 per cent for their white counterparts.
According to the documents Rutland obtained, the squad arrested 31 people between December 2019 and April 2020. He says 23 were Black, six were white and two were non-Black people of colour.
Most of the charges the arrests led to were not related to firearms, Rutland found, but to drugs. According to his research:
- 54 per cent were drug-related charges.
- 30 per cent were firearms-related charges.
- 13 per cent were for non-violent crimes.
- 1.6 per cent were related to violent crimes.
"Gun violence is a real problem," Rutland said. "But when we give police the mandate and the resources to deal with this, they do something else entirely."
Rutland believes there is a link between allegations of police racial profiling and the formation of squads that disproportionately target communities of colour.
In his report, he points to the timing of anti-police violence protests in Montreal in the 1980s and the police force's sudden focus on eliminating street gangs, a phenomenon some Quebec researchers say was overblown in the media and used by police to obtain more resources.
Rutland says he decided to look into the arrests after he noticed the squad was formed a couple months after a report the police force itself commissioned found Black and Indigenous people were four to five times more likely to be stopped than white people.
"I thought that this might be following in a historical pattern," said Rutland, who teaches in Concordia's Faculty of Geography, Planning and Environment.
Rutland feels the results of his research confirm the hunch he had.
"We ask them for reforms and they do more of the things that we were criticizing them for," he said.
Rutland also points out in his report that the majority of the arrests the squad made occurred in northeastern parts of the city, suggesting it has been targeting areas with higher Black populations, he said.
In a statement, the Montreal police department said its officers, including the Quiétude squad, conduct investigations "by using proven methods, without discrimination and without racism." It added that the unit's investigations were based on tips from the public and informants.
Some skepticism from premier
Quebec Premier François Legault reacted to the study's findings saying his government was looking into them.
"But just to tell you this study was made by the same professor who said this spring we should free all of Quebec's inmates, just to give you a bit of context," Legault said.
Rutland has for years advocated for the defunding of police, reallocation of funds toward social services and prison abolition.
"The best the police can do is arrest someone after the fact and send them to prison, which doesn't reduce the violence in our society," Rutland told CBC Thursday. "Whereas community groups are calling for all kinds of investments in social programs, including mediation programs, street workers — all kinds of services that could actually quell conflicts."
Lack of race-based data
The arrest reports Rutland obtained did not list the race of the accused, but Rutland says he was able to find out through a mix of contacting their lawyers, searching media reports of their arrests, reaching out to them on Facebook and knocking on their doors.
Montreal police do not collect race-based data, but in July the force said it would collaborate with an initiative by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Statistics Canada to create new rules on police data collection.
Also in July, Montreal's police chief Sylvain Caron revealed the force's new policy on street checks, which were revised following the fall 2019 report into racial profiling by Montreal police.