A Black man who was wrongfully arrested by Montreal police last winter was not a victim of racial profiling, but a bungled investigation contributed to his six-day stint in jail, according to a report by a Quebec Superior Court judge released Friday.
Superior Court Justice Louis Dionne had been appointed by the province to lead an investigation into police conduct leading up to the arrest of Mamadi Camara, as well as what transpired after.
On Jan. 28, Camara, a Black PhD student, was stopped by Const. Sanjay Vig in Montreal's Parc-Extension neighbourhood for allegedly using his cellphone while driving. Shortly after, the officer was attacked from behind and disarmed.
At the time, Vig told investigators Camara was the one who attacked him, leading to Camara's arrest and detainment on charges that included attempted murder and disarming a police officer.
Camara was eventually exonerated and released on Feb. 3, in large part due to footage from a nearby Quebec Transport Ministry camera.
Nearly two months after Camara was exonerated, police arrested the man they said was actually responsible for attacking Vig.
"We are of the view that, in the particular circumstances of this case, Mr. Camara was not subjected to differential treatment on the basis of his race, colour or ethnicity," the report reads.
The report also concluded that Montreal police had a reasonable motive to arrest Camara and the Crown prosecutor's office was justified in approving the charges against him.
Report flagged flaws in police investigation
However, many of the report's 18 recommendations are aimed at the Service de police de la ville de Montréal (SPVM), and it found flaws in how the SPVM carried out its investigation, including the mismanagement of potential evidence.
The report calls for the SPVM to improve its processes for "major events."
According to Dionne, Camara declined to be interviewed. Camara is currently suing the City of Montreal and Crown prosecutors for close to $1 million.
On the day of the attack, an employee with the Centre intégré de la gestion de la circulation de Québec — who had access to the Transport Ministry's cameras — contacted police to tell them there was footage relevant to the assault on Vig.
According to the report, he told a SPVM sergeant-detective that investigators needed to email a request to obtain a copy of the raw footage. In the meantime, he suggested officers come to the centre to view the footage, and even film it with their phones.
When an investigator did view the footage, the report says she "twice called the major crimes unit to find out if there was anything in particular she needed to watch for. … But her calls were not answered."
A day later, a memo indicated that the footage had been viewed and that task had been completed.
However, Dionne's report states that an important witness — the centre's employee who noticed the footage — hadn't been formally questioned and the lead investigator was not made aware of what was caught on camera.
Police force will 'review its practices'
The SPVM finally received the raw footage on Feb. 2, five days after Camara's arrest, and an officer who took part in Camara's interrogation viewed it.
"He shared his observations with his colleagues," the report reads. "For them, the presence of a third party is clear."
In a statement, the SPVM said it would review its practices and make necessary changes.
"Although the report highlights the fact police officers had to work under unusual circumstances … the fact remains that certain malfunctions were noted."
In a press release, the province's public security minister, Geneviève Guilbault, thanked Dionne for his investigation.
"My ministry is already at work to follow up on the recommendations," she said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.