City of Terrebonne, Que., and 2 police officers told to pay $13K for racial profiling

·3 min read
City of Terrebonne, Que., and 2 police officers told to pay $13K for racial profiling

The Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission has ordered the City of Terrebonne and two of its police officers to pay $13,000 in damages to a Black man after he was stopped while driving in 2019.

Jonathan Woodley, an English-speaking business owner in the neighbouring Mascouche area, brought the complaint forward after being pulled over on the morning of July 20 that year.

In a ruling released last month, the commission wrote that Terrebonne police officers Gabrielle Charbonneau-Laplante and Jean-Philippe Girard violated Woodley's civil rights when they pulled him over on the grounds of driving a car registered to a woman.

He was pulled over around 7 a.m. that morning while driving his wife's car, Woodley told reporters Wednesday. That was the reason he was given by officers after they pulled a U-turn and looked into his plate number, linked to his wife who has an Italian name.

"It left a bad taste in my mouth," he said. "I was fortunate that I was recording it with my phone because I was able to actually capture his name."

Girard refused to share his badge number, and threw Woodley's driver's licence back at him after he was finished reading it. Throughout the stop, Charbonneau-Laplante also poked her head inside his car, something Woodley described as "violating."

WATCH|Jonathan Woodley explains why he went public:

The police did not issue any ticket.

Because the city has yet to pay up, the case will now be heading to the Human Rights Tribunal, said Fo Niemi, the executive director of the the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, which helped Woodley with the case.

While the commission can make recommendations of fines, the tribunal's rulings are binding.

Girard will also be heading to a Police Ethics committee hearing next month to explain why and how he chose to pull Woodley over, Niemi said. The committee cited him for racial profiling, illegal detention and refusal to identify himself.

"We want to highlight that fact that racial profiling is more than just in Montreal, Repentigny, but that it's also in Terrebonne," Niemi said.

Niemi also called it a case of gender-based discrimination, saying it's not infrequent for Black men to be pulled over while driving their sister or wife's car.

"It's very rare that we hear a white male driver being stopped because they're driving a car registered to a woman's name," he said.

Pierre Fortin/CBC
Pierre Fortin/CBC

Woodley said he had already been pulled over in Terrebonne and Laval for that reason several times before going ahead with his complaint. The resident of eight years says it's a common experience among his peers in the area who are also Black men.

Woodley says he wants to see accountability from police for what happened. He also wants to set a precedent so that others feel more confident about making their own complaints to the commission.

"If you're a Black man you should feel safe to be driving, whether it's your own car or it's your spouse's car," he said.

This is one of two complaints against Terrebonne police that Woodley has raised.

Another Black resident in area has another 12 complaints of racial profiling pending against them as well, Niemi said. Similar complaints have been brought against provincial police in the area.

In its decision the commission recommended the police service adopt policy that clearly states it's opposed to racial profiling within a year's time, implement sensitivity training for officers, supervisors and managers, and collect and publish race-based data to track who is stopped by police.

The city of Terrebonne and its police service have yet to respond when asked to comment.

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.