Terrebonne police, city slammed with $205K lawsuit for systemic discrimination

Pierre-Marcel Monsanto says Terrebonne police have sometimes stopped him twice in a day. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)
Pierre-Marcel Monsanto says Terrebonne police have sometimes stopped him twice in a day. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)

The City of Terrebonne and 18 police officers have been hit with a civil lawsuit for systemic discrimination, harassment and for racially profiling a local Black man.

Quebec's Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission (CDPDJ) is seeking $205,000 in damages on behalf of Pierre-Marcel Monsanto, a Terrebonne resident of Haitian descent, after police stopped him over a dozen times and fined him without valid reason. Included in the lawsuit is $20,000 in punitive damages against the city.

Monsanto filed 15 complaints against Terrebonne police for stopping him without valid reason between 2018 and 2021 and issuing him more than $6,000 in fines. Fourteen of those stops were made within 11 months.

At a news conference Wednesday, Monsanto said his frequent interactions with police officers have left him in fear of living in the Montreal suburb, and he's contemplating moving.

"Most of the time, I don't go out," he said. "I feel like a second-class citizen. I feel anxiety … I said to my wife, 'be prepared to raise our kids alone because I can be killed, and something can happen any time.'"

Terrebonne police refused to comment on the case because it is before the courts.

In March 2022, Quebec's police ethics commissioner upheld eight complaints against Terrebonne police officers for racially profiling Monsanto when he was driving a car belonging to his wife, with whom he shares an address.

The CDPDJ decision says police cruisers would mostly be driving toward Monsanto, compelling officers to make a U-turn and activate their sirens to follow him for some distance.

"For most of the events, the evidence shows, among other things, that the officers were interested in the vehicle driven by Mr. Monsanto when he had not committed any offence," the decision read. "They decided to check the licence plate after finding that the driver was a Black man."

The commission is calling on the city to provide current and future police officers with training on racism and formally evaluate their understanding. It is also asking that Terrebonne collect race-based data for all police stops.

Heading to court

Exceptionally, the CDPDJ last month took the case to the province's Superior Court instead of filing it at the Quebec's Human Rights Tribunal.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

The commission's decisions are not binding, so typically, it will bump a case up to the province's Human Rights Tribunal, which can render legally binding decisions.

A spokesperson for the commission said CDPDJ may choose to take a case to a court of law under Section 80 of Quebec's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"In this specific case, it was deemed appropriate to present the case to the Superior Court, considering the public interest and interest of the complainant," Meissoon Azzaria, a spokesperson for the CDPDJ said in an email.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), who has been helping Monsanto with his case, says the fact that the case is going to  Superior Court sends a strong message to the judiciary and to law enforcement agencies that the case "is going to go far."

"This case also shows that increasingly the city can be held accountable and responsible for systemic discrimination within the police service," Niemi said. "If we add the total amount of dollars claimed — $205,000 — to the lawyers' fees … to defend the city and 18 police officers before the Superior Court, we're talking about a lot of money."

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.