Quebec human rights commission calls on police officer to pay Black mother and son $61K in profiling case

·4 min read
Malik Spaulding-Smith said he wasn't able to eat or sleep properly after he was wrongfully arrested and detained for nine hours in 2017. (Salim Valji/CBC - image credit)
Malik Spaulding-Smith said he wasn't able to eat or sleep properly after he was wrongfully arrested and detained for nine hours in 2017. (Salim Valji/CBC - image credit)

Quebec's human rights commission has called on an off-duty police officer to pay a Black man and his mother more than $61,000 after calling 911 on the man, a call that kicked off a series of events that led to the man being arrested, detained and having his home searched.

Malik Spaulding-Smith, who was 20 at the time of his arrest in June 2017, had been sitting in his car smoking a cigarette a couple of blocks from his home in Saint-Constant, Que., on Montreal's South Shore, because his parents did not know about his nicotine habit.

The neighbour whose home Spaulding-Smith was parked in front of came outside and asked him to leave, which Spaulding-Smith said he did soon afterward.

But moments after the 20-year-old returned home, he opened his front door to a formation of police officers pointing guns at him.

At the time, Spaulding-Smith told CBC News he counted 12 squad cars and nine officers who had pistols pointing at him, and another officer across the street with an assault rifle pointed in his direction.

Spaulding-Smith was arrested and held alone in a jail cell for nine hours. He was ultimately released but says he was left emotionally scarred and believed he was racially profiled.

The Quebec Human Rights Commission wrote in its decision released last month that the evidence in the case is strong enough to show Spaulding-Smith was a victim of discrimination and racial profiling.

It revealed the neighbour who called 911 was an off-duty police officer, who told police in the call that his daughter had connections to street gangs and that one of the gang members had fired a gun near the officer's home.

Police later revealed they had called Hydro-Québec and found out an electrical problem made the sound, not a gunshot.

While the commission typically holds police forces responsible for profiling, in this case, it instead recommended that the individual police officer, who was off duty when he made the call that launched a large police operation against Spaulding-Smith, be the one to pay damages.

CBC had earlier reported that the commission recommended the Roussillon police service pay the damages. In fact, it is the officer himself who is being called on to pay $44,000 to Spaulding-Smith for moral damages and $17,000 to his mother.

If the off-duty officer does not follow the commission's recommendations, the case will be submitted to the province's human rights tribunal.

The Montreal-based Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, which has assisted the family, said Spaulding-Smith's arrest wasn't his first or last experience with racial profiling by police.

"My Black friends and myself have been so often stopped by the police, as if we don't belong and that we don't have a right to drive the kind of cars we want and go freely where we want," he said in a CRARR news release.

"This incident made me lose all confidence in the police."

Spaulding-Smith said his house was searched in the incident and that he was told by police that someone had called 911 to say that a man in a suspicious vehicle had fired a gun outside his home.

No amount can repay trauma, mother says

While Spaulding-Smith was being handcuffed, he said he told police they were being racist, but that they just laughed in response.

As police were searching their home, Spaulding-Smith's mother, Suzette Spaulding, was not able to return before 8:30 that night.

"We are, of course, happy because we feel vindicated, although no amount of money could repair the trauma my son has experienced in the last four years," Suzette Spaulding said.

Roussillon police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2017, a spokesperson for the police service, Const. Karine Bergeron, said police "didn't overlook any measures" in response to the 911 call, but noted the investigation was wrapped up that day, after police made the call to Hydro-Québec.

At the time, Bergeron couldn't say how many officers were dispatched to the scene or whether their guns were drawn. She wouldn't comment on the racial profiling allegation.

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.

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