Montreal police consultations lack representation of minority communities, advocates say

Rowan Kennedy/CBC ( - image credit)
Rowan Kennedy/CBC ( - image credit)

When Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, saw there were only 11 people, three of whom speak English, at the latest consultation about Montreal police on Thursday, he walked out.

"I didn't believe my presence would be necessary or very important to the discussion," he said.

"When you look at the pattern in crime prevention activities, the English-speaking community has been left out."

The city of Montreal has been holding consultations with local community groups ahead of choosing the next police chief.

The city's public consultation office (OCPM) issued 38 recommendations to help the city address systemic racism and discrimination in 2022, which included more discussions with the public.

It urged the city to have candidates for the role of police chief make a presentation before the public security commission and field questions from residents.

But English-speaking community groups say they feel excluded once again.

"It's important to have a pulse on the English-speaking communities of Montreal," said Niemi, stressing that many minority groups in the city speak English.

"The Jewish and Black communities of Montreal also feel concerned about policing and strong expectations of what policing should be like," he said.

The West Island Black Community Association has never been invited to a focus group, said president Joan Lee.

"We have asked many times: 'Include us. We want to be a part of the solution,'" she said.

"I believe it will serve the community much better and help the police navigate our community because we are speaking from experience, we are bringing experience to the table. It's frustrating to be excluded."

She said people from her community would like a police chief who speaks English to prevent things from being lost in translation. Montreal is a unique city, she said, so the next police chief should be familiar with the communities here.

City says few RSVP-ed

The city said it reached out to several anglophone community groups, but only a few confirmed they would be present. So it invited more francophone groups.

"One of the essential conditions for the success of the consultation process for the selection of the next head of the SPVM is that it be inclusive and representative of the Montreal population in all its diversity," said Marikym Gaudreault, a spokesperson for the city.

Marvin Rotrand, the national director of B'nai Brith's League for Human Rights and a former city councillor, said he believes this is a hiccup in what he thinks is a first step for Valérie Plante's administration to live up to recommendations from 2020.

Poor relations between Montreal and racial and religious minorities in the city have been long documented, he said.

"We would like to be consulted, we'd like to be part of the process that puts together a profile of what the next police chief looks like," said Rotrand.

"Change needs to come and I believe the police department is open to that, but it's only going to be open when you have somebody at the top that understands the concerns that have been expressed by minority communities for many years in this city."