Quebec government to appeal racial profiling ruling that banned random police stops

François Bonnardel said the government will seek leave to appeal a decision that would ban police from performing random traffic stops because they can be instances of racial profiling.  (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
François Bonnardel said the government will seek leave to appeal a decision that would ban police from performing random traffic stops because they can be instances of racial profiling. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The Quebec government will appeal a court ruling that found stopping drivers without cause is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Quebec Superior Court Judge Michel Yergeau ruled on Oct. 24 that police can no longer make motor vehicle stops without cause, saying it allowed police "a safe conduit for racial profiling against the Black community."

François Bonnardel, Quebec's minister of public security, said at a morning news conference alongside Christopher Skeete, the minister responsible for the fight against racism, that the government would contest the decision.

"We consider it unjustified to abolish a tool that is so important to police services," Bonnardel said.

Despite the appeal, the government will meanwhile introduce new measures to fight the "possible situation of racial profiling" in Quebec, Bonnardel said.

He and Skeete will, in the coming days, meet with community groups and police forces across the province to understand their perspective on racial profiling and random traffic stops.

The government will then present new legislation to make it easier for citizens to report racial profiling and to give police more training, Bonnardel said.

Skeete acknowledged how the appeal of the Yergeau decision could lead some Quebecers to distrust the government's commitment to fighting racial profiling.

"I see that that's a possibility for some people," he said.

"We are aware that the line is thin between giving police officers the tools they need to do their work and our deep desire to eliminate racial profiling in society with our police force," Skeete said.

The Yergeau decision struck down article 636 of the Highway Safety Code which allowed police to perform random checks on motorists. The case was brought to the courts by Montrealer Joseph-Christopher Luamba, a 22-year-old Black man, who said he was consistently pulled over by police when in a car.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Skeete said article 636 has allowed police to do "very necessary checks," including verifying expired licences and preventing intoxicated driving.

The Yergeau ruling does allow police to stop someone for cause — speeding or swerving — and also allows them to keep performing random testing of drivers at seasonal roadblocks designed to catch intoxicated drivers.

"It is neutral, in certain applications it can result in racial profiling," Skeete said. "The absence of that tool does not prevent racial profiling. We have to distinguish between the two. We can keep and maintain a tool that is indispensable for the protection of Quebecers and at the same time fight against racial profiling."

Bonnardel said the government wanted to ensure Quebecers felt empowered to complain to the police ethics commissioner if they feel they had been a victim of racial profiling, something Luamba did not do because he said he felt the process was too complicated and he had little faith in the result.

Community groups had asked the Quebec government not to appeal the decision, saying it would be a significant step to combat racial profiling.

But there were calls for an appeal from some in law enforcement, who argued the decision would hamper police work.

After the decision, Premier François Legault said his government would assess the "long" ruling before deciding whether to appeal it.

"We are against racial profiling, but in certain areas of Montreal we need the police to continue to do their job on a random basis," he said.

Fady Dagher, Montreal's next police chief, told CBC Daybreak he was a perpetrator of racial profiling as an officer on the SPVM's street gang unit in the 1990s. At the time, the unit profiled Black men, he said. Later, after 9/11, Dagher, who was born in Ivory Coast, said he was a victim of racial profiling and then understood its harmful effect.

Dagher said he hoped the government's appeal would be successful and police would continue to be allowed to perform random traffic stops.

Charles Contant/CBC
Charles Contant/CBC

"The article, 636, is really focused on alcohol and drug abuse during driving, but some police officers use it for the wrong reason," he said.

"We need that article but, if we keep it there's no way we can keep using it the way some police officers used it before."

Max Stanley Bazin, the president of the Black Coalition of Quebec, said in an interview with Radio-Canada he was perplexed by the government's  decision to appeal.

In his opinion, the Yergeau ruling is solid.

"I don't know what the government lawyers will say," he said. "I don't see how they could overturn the judgment."

Bazin said he was also disappointed the government — which has maintained that there is no systemic racism in the province — was now outright challenging a decision that "contains facts, figures and reports that are proof that systemic racism exists in Quebec," he said.

"When the government tells us they want to support the work of police who are doing good work, but factually we have evidence to the contrary, it's disconcerting," he said.

In his Oct. 24 decision, Yergeau gave the province a six-month grace period before random stops were officially invalid.