Black Montreal police officer claims he was racially profiled in lawsuit against SQ

The Montreal police officer was off duty and driving to his sister's house in Joliette, Que., when he was intercepted by provincial police officers.  (Lynda Paradis/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The Montreal police officer was off duty and driving to his sister's house in Joliette, Que., when he was intercepted by provincial police officers. (Lynda Paradis/Radio-Canada - image credit)

A Black Montreal police officer is alleging he was racially profiled while off duty in a lawsuit against four of his provincial counterparts and Quebec's attorney general.

"If you're a Black man, either you're a judge, you're a lawyer, you're a police officer, wherever you are in the society, you are subject to being racially profiled," said the plaintiff's lawyer, Fernando Belton.

The 43-year-old plaintiff, whose name is withheld by a court order, has 15 years' experience as a police officer and was visiting his sister in Joliette, Que., on Sept. 21, 2021, when he was stopped by officers with the Sûreté du Québec (SQ). Joliette is about 70 kilometres east of Montreal.

The plaintiff, in plainclothes, was driving a luxury SUV at the time and following the rules of the road, says the plaintiff's lawsuit, which was filed this week in Quebec Superior Court. He had pulled into his sister's driveway and was exiting his vehicle when the SQ officers turned on their lights and began the stop.

The plaintiff identified himself as an officer with the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), showing his badge, and accused the SQ officers of racially profiling him.

"It's a classic case of what we call 'driving while Black.' It affects a lot of Black men who are driving luxurious cars," said Belton.

Plaintiff says he was pushed to ground

The intervention quickly escalated and the SQ called for backup. The lawsuit says the plaintiff's wallet was snatched from his hands and he was pushed to the ground during the incident.

The SQ claimed they had been told to stop vehicles from outside the city because of an anti-mask protest that was taking place that day, according to the lawsuit.

But it's these types of stops — pulling someone over who did not commit any type of infraction — that the lawsuit is targeting.

Back in October 2022, a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that police motor vehicle stops without cause are a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The plaintiff is suing for more than $100,000 in punitive damages and loss of income because he has been on leave since August 2023.

Stress, nightmares following incident

Belton said his client was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that the SQ officers filed a complaint against him with the SPVM, adding to his stress at work. The reason his name was stricken from the record was because he fears reprisal from within the force, the lawyer said.

"In the months following the incident, the plaintiff suffered from insomnia and had recurring nightmares when remembering the scenes of the intervention," the lawsuit says.

"The defendant experiences heart palpitations and is afraid when he encounters police vehicles while driving his car."

The lawsuit says the defendant no longer takes pleasure in driving his new car, can't visit his sister in Joliette and often feels extreme sadness when thinking about the incident. Belton said his client is considering a new career path despite having always loved his job.

The lawsuit is demanding that SQ officers have improved, regular training in this matter and be assessed on their knowledge.

It is also demanding that the SQ collect and publish annually statistical data concerning perceived or presumed racial identity of the people who are the subject of a police interception in order to document the phenomenon of racial profiling.

The SQ declined to comment as the matter is before the courts.

CBC News asked the Attorney General of Quebec's office for comment, but did not hear back Thursday.

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.