City of Longueuil, police department ordered to pay $12K in damages in racial profiling case

·4 min read

A Black man who was stopped by police while dropping his son off at daycare eight years ago was racially profiled, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal has found.

The tribunal ordered the Montreal suburb of Longueuil, a Longueuil police officer and a former police officer to pay Joel Debellefeuille $10,000 in damages, plus interest.

Debellefeuille was stopped by police outside his son's daycare in March 2012, after police followed his car for more than a kilometre.

In his decision, Judge Christian Brunelle said the city must adopt a policy on profiling that would include providing training to officers, and collecting and evaluating race-based data on people who are stopped by police.

Brunelle also said Quebec's human rights commission must pay the plaintiff's legal fees, ruling that the delays in responding to Debellefeuille's complaint were abnormally long and unacceptable.

In addition, Dominic Polidoro, who remains a police officer, was ordered to pay $2,000 in punitive damages.

The tribunal's ruling is binding, unlike those of the human rights commission.

According to the decision, Polidoro testified that he followed Debellefeuille's vehicle because he thought Debellefeuille was looking at him, had gestured toward him and had said something to him while the two vehicles were stopped at a stop sign.

Brunelle found that Polidoro's explanation didn't justify his stop of Debellefeuille.

"It is highly improbable that a white man (or woman) who, while driving their vehicle observed a police officer while continuing to talk with the other passengers and gesticulating — as many people do incidentally while expressing themselves — would be considered a suspect for that sole reason," Brunelle wrote.

Brunelle found that Polidoro's actions could only be "rationally explained by the prejudices he maintained, whether consciously or not, toward a Black man driving a luxury car."

Debellefeuille, who was driving a BMW at the time, told the tribunal that he had been stopped "numerous times" by police.

The other officer who stopped Debellefeuille, Jean-Claude Bleu Voua, was not ordered to pay additional punitive damages because he is no longer a police officer and could not be found by the tribunal.

He is believed to have left the country.

'This is how we make progress'

Collecting race-based data is an important step, said Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, which supported Debellefeuille's complaint.

Niemi said that data will make it harder for the police department to deny that racial profiling exists.

He said his organization is looking to the courts, because municipal and provincial politicians aren't taking action to stop racial profiling.

"What we are seeing now is that these battles will have to be fought in the courts and when the court sides with us and imposes these decisions," Niemi said. "This is how we make progress."

Neither the Longueuil municipal government — which sought to have the case dismissed — nor its police service responded to a request for comment on Saturday.

Quebec's human rights commission praised the decision in a statement.

The commission is also calling for another Montreal suburb and three of its police officers to pay $35,000 in damages to a Black man who says he was racially profiled.

Francois Ducas was also driving a BMW when he was stopped by Repentigny police.

Ducas, who objected to the stop and refused to identify himself, was handcuffed and searched.

Police issued Ducas, a secondary school teacher, two tickets: one for obstruction, the other for injuring a police officer.

The commission believes he was stopped because of his race.

Repentigny is challenging the commission's decision. That challenge will be heard before the Human Rights Tribunal.

Marlène Girard, the director of communications for Repentigny, said she couldn't comment on the case but that the municipality has "increased the number of initiatives seeking to bring the police service closer to the diversity of its population" over the past few years.

"Today we acknowledge that we still have work to do," Girard wrote in an email. "We are being proactive, we are not waiting for the outcome of current cases of alleged racial profiling or future allegations in order to take action."

Last week, the Repentigny police service announced it had hired a consulting firm to develop a plan to be more inclusive.

However, Niemi said he believes the Repentigny police are still denying the seriousness of the problem.