Community groups call out premier for comments on police stops, racial profiling

Several community group leaders united to criticize the premier of Quebec for his comments regarding random police stops on the road. From left to right, Frantz Voltaire, a Montreal filmmaker, Joan Lee the president of the West Island Black Community Association, Jean Ernest Pierre, the director of the CPAM radio station and Jean Fils-Aimé, an on-air personality with CPAM.  (Charles Contant/CBC - image credit)

The day after a Quebec Superior Court judge released a ruling that said random police stops on the road are illegal, lead to racial profiling and violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the province's premier chimed in.

What he said didn't sit well with Black community members.

Last Wednesday, François Legault acknowledged that racial profiling was a problem while also implying that there shouldn't be too many limitations on random police stops.

"When we're talking about random stops, we have to understand that we need police officers to do their jobs," Legault said in French.

"When we see the violence that there is in Montreal, in certain neighbourhoods ... I have full trust in the police and it's important to support them."

On Monday, several community group leaders got together to denounce Legault's comments as polarizing, hurtful and careless. They say the ruling was clear about the illegitimacy of random motor vehicle stops.

Frantz Voltaire, a Montreal-based filmmaker, said Legault's vocal support for police when talking about the ruling could have a detrimental effect on groups who are most likely to be stopped by officers.

"This could push certain officers to continue behaving illegally," Voltaire said. "He should not have taken that position. It's a position that makes it difficult for different groups on the island to coexist because we are once again stigmatizing the Black communities."

Voltaire also said the premier's statement made it seem as if respecting the work of police officers was incompatible with respecting the rights of citizens.

Charles Contant/CBC
Charles Contant/CBC

Jean Fils-Aimé, the program director for the CPAM radio station, said a premier shouldn't be so quick to raise questions about a court ruling, unless he knows where he stands on the issue and is certain the government will appeal it.

"Until you appeal those rulings, we expected the premier to act like a true statesman, rise above the fray and, for once, speak like the premier of all [Quebecers]."

Premier 'needs to live in the real world'

On several occasions, Fils-Aimé made reference to several comments Legault has made in the past, including controversial ones during the Quebec election campaign earlier this month.

In September, Legault linked immigration to "extremism" and "violence" but later apologized. He also said bringing in more than 50,000 new immigrants per year would be "a bit suicidal."

The premier seemed to reference those comments during his election night victory speech on Oct. 3, when he said election campaigns were divisive and vowed to move forward and be "the premier for all Quebecers."

Fils-Aimé said members of racialized communities want to feel at home in Quebec, but Legault calling into question a court ruling related to racial profiling doesn't help.

Joan Lee, the president of the West Island Black Community Association, said she regularly hears from mothers who say they are worried their sons will be harmed or killed if they are stopped by police.

"I think our premier needs to have some sensitivity training and he needs to live in the real world, in the world that we live in," Lee said.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

In a statement, Ewans Sauves, a spokesperson for the premier said "Mr. Legault clearly said last week, in his response, that we must continue fighting against racial profiling."

He said the province has invested nearly a million dollars in police training and also highlighted the province's street check policy, which mirrored the one unveiled by Montreal police that same year.

"We also have to support our police officers. They do essential work in conditions that are sometimes difficult. They need to have every tool at their disposal to prevent crime," the spokesperson said.

"It is a long ruling. We'll take the time to analyze it properly."

In his ruling, Judge Michel Yergeau allowed a six-month delay until the rules allowing random stops are officially invalid. The ruling applies only in the province of Quebec.

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.