A Municipal Court judge has accused two Montreal police officers of racial and gender profiling, and dismissed all charges against a Montreal woman who was pulled over in November 2017.
"This police intervention has all the appearances of a fishing expedition and of an arbitrary detention motivated by racial or sexual profiling, or both at once," Judge Randall Richmond wrote in his ruling Thursday.
In November 2017, Vanessa Anna Baptiste was driving her father's car to Notre Dame Island, heading there to pick him up from the casino, with her male friend riding in the passenger seat.
As she drove along Papineau Avenue, she crossed paths with a Montreal police vehicle on the corner of Ste-Catherine Street. She continued northbound, toward the entrance of the Jacques Cartier Bridge, and watched as the police vehicle made a U-Turn and navigated around other cars, until it caught up with hers, court documents said.
According to the documents, the police then drove behind Baptiste's car and turned on their sirens about halfway across the bridge, signalling they were pulling her over.
As one of the officers approached her vehicle, Baptiste already had her license, registration and proof of insurance in hand, the court ruling states. Baptiste then told the two officers she did nothing wrong and accused them of pulling her over because of the colour of her skin.
At this point, the officers removed her from her car and handcuffed her behind her back, the ruling said, with Baptiste's documents and cell phone falling on the car seat in the process.
After looking at the documents, the officers dealt her two fines: one for refusing to hand over documents and one for screaming.
The officers claimed they had pulled her over because they saw that the woman was driving a vehicle belonging to a man. They later claimed that one of her break lights was also out.
The two officers said they could see a woman and a man inside the car and that they were able to look up the vehicle's license plate, but that it was too dark to see the colour of their skin.
Judge denounces choice of words
In their description of what happened that night, the officers repeatedly described Baptiste as "hysterical" and claimed she "screamed her head off."
"The word 'hysterical' is derogatory and suggests that a person is out of control," said Richmond, citing a previous ruling of his.
He pointed out that the word "hysterical" comes from the Greek word for uterus. It was used for decades to describe a mental disorder thought to only be suffered by women, but this is no longer recognized in the field of psychology.
"Far too often, shouting men are described as loud, and shouting women are dismissed as hysterical," Richmond continued.
Richmond did not find the officers' version of events to be credible. He did not find it possible that officers could see the license plate from where they were initially, and did not believe that the officers couldn't see the colour of the driver's skin.
Richmond also pointed out that no fines or warnings about a defective brake light were issued to Baptiste and said that detail was only added on later.
He went on to say that while Baptiste did scream at officers, she was justified in doing so.
Richmond added that protesting an arrest believed to be illegitimate is a right protected by both Canadian and Quebec charters.
"A woman driving a vehicle belonging to a man is not a valid motive for interception, and protesting against racial profiling is not an infraction," Richmond concluded.