Montreal police handcuff innocent Black man, have no key to release him

The video circulating online shows the handcuffed man insisting he is innocent and the rightful owner of the car. He asks police if a white man would be treated this way. (Screengrab of Twitter video - image credit)
The video circulating online shows the handcuffed man insisting he is innocent and the rightful owner of the car. He asks police if a white man would be treated this way. (Screengrab of Twitter video - image credit)

Two plainclothes officers handcuffed a Black man at a Montreal shopping district Thursday while they investigated him for car theft, but once they determined he was in fact the car's owner, they couldn't release him because they had no keys for the cuffs.

Local patrolling officers were called to a parking lot at Marché Central to free the man and now a video of the incident is circulating online.

The six-minute video appears to show the officers trying to calm the unidentified man, who is upset over being handcuffed despite his innocence.

The video does not show what led up to the detainment. The man tells officers it is his car; incensed, he asks the police if a white man would have been treated the same way.

The Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) says the incident was part of an effort to crack down on car theft and the plainclothes officers were auto-theft investigators.

They began investigating the car in the parking lot Thursday because it had obvious damage to the lock that is typical of stolen vehicles, but before they could finish, a citizen attempted to take possession of it, the SPVM's communication team says in an email to CBC.

"This citizen was then temporarily detained for investigation purposes by the two police officers. The citizen was released unconditionally and without charges once the checks were completed," the email says.

The car, a Honda CRV SUV, is on the 2020 and 2021 lists of the most stolen vehicles in Quebec, the email says.

Camara says Montreal police need to change ways

Mamadi III Fara Camara said watching the video of the incident brought back painful memories.

"Whether you are Black or white, the way the law is applied must be fair for everyone," he said in an interview with Radio-Canada on Friday.

"Actions that give the impression of more discriminatory treatment for certain communities must be stopped. Justice must be equal for everyone."

Charles Dumouchel/Radio-Canada
Charles Dumouchel/Radio-Canada

On Jan. 28, 2021, Camara was arrested, detained for six nights, and accused of attempted murder after a Montreal police officer was attacked during a routine traffic stop. Camara eventually launched a $1.2-million lawsuit against Montreal. The city settled out of court.

Camara said he is outraged that this investigation into a parked car turned into the humiliation of an innocent man.

"How can you use handcuffs that you don't have the key to? I can't believe this is happening in Canada," Camara said.

"Especially with all the police academies and the training we give. We can't believe that police behave like this."

Keys needed for emergencies: former inspector

André Durocher, a former inspector with the Montreal police, said officers should always have the keys to the handcuffs they carry.

"What happens if you handcuff somebody and they have respiratory failure? There could be some serious consequences," Durocher said.

There were two officers on the scene, he said, and there should have been a key between them.


The only explanation he could think of is that an officer in uniform would normally put the key on a ring on their belt, and maybe that led to forgetting the key.

"Nevertheless, it should be something at all times, when you put handcuffs, you should have the keys that go with it in order to avoid a tragedy should something happen," said Durocher.

Not only that, he added, handcuffs might go on too tight at first and need to be loosened in order to avoid injury or wrist pain, but without the key, they cannot be loosened.

When handcuffs are used to detain someone, Durocher explained, it is up to the police officers' discretion.

In a case where officers are concerned about a potential car thief who could turn violent, it makes sense to temporarily handcuff them while they investigate, but still, they should always have a key, he said.


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.