Fondé en 1983 --Unis pour la diversité et l'égalité raciale


Montreal, May 23, 2019 - After five years, a disabled English-speaking Black man finally scored a major civil rights victory against the Montreal Police Service and two of its officers who roughly detained him near the Atwater metro station due to vague suspect description.

In a decision dated February 28, 2019 and released to the parties two weeks ago, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission concluded that Pradel Content’s civil rights were violated by officers Sébastien Laurin and Marc-Michel Roy during an incident dating from March 2014.

On that evening, Content, then 36 and walking with a cane due to serious physical injuries sustained during a car accident in the U.S., was heading to a concert near the Atwater metro station with three other male friends (one Asian, one Black and one White). He was suddenly grabbed by Laurin who was looking for a white cell phone. Content showed him his black cell phone and was let go.

When Content told Laurin, and other officers that he had never been treated this way in his life, Laurin grabbed him and dragged him towards a police van nearby. Despite telling Laurin and another female officer who also grabbed him that he had a disability and used a cane, Content was shoved onto the van and searched by Laurin and Roy. Content felt extreme pain and screamed due to the amount of force used on him, despite his and his friends’ plea about his physical disability.

Laurin asked him why he screamed, and told him that he would go to jail. After checking his ID, the officers realized they got the wrong person and released Content, without any apology. Two days after the incident, Content sought medical help and was told that his chronic back pain condition had worsened as a result.

CRARR helped Content filed police ethics and civil rights complaints in June 2014. In May 2015, the Police Ethics Commissioner closed the file due to his inability to “establish by preponderance of evidence the allegations (of facts) made in the complaint.”

The Human Rights Commission completed its investigation in July 2018 and issued its decision in May 2019, in which it concluded that Content was a victim of discrimination based on race and disability. The Commission asked the City and the two officers to pay Content $15,000 in moral damages; Laurin to pay him $2,500 in punitive damages and Roy, $1,500 in punitive damages.

“Of course I’m happy with the decision, it’s better for late justice than having no justice,” Content said. “This is the fourth decision against the police in the last two years that are in my favor, so I hope that more will follow because as an English-speaking Black man, I’m tired of being treated like some second-class “Negroes” the police can do with anything they want with someone like me,” he added.

In addition to financial compensation, the decision asks the SPVM to develop training on the common police practice of circulating a vague description of a suspect in which race becomes the dominant identification factor. This practice, which CRARR defines in a 2009 report as an “Any Negro Will Do” practice, as it is commonly known in the U.S., often leads to innocent men of color being violently apprehended simply because of their race and gender.

The decision also sets a new benchmark for policing and disability rights as it considers discriminatory a police intervention that does not take into account a person’s disability, and requires accommodation in police actions. This standard is more common in the U.S. where the American with Disabilities Act is far more reaching.

“This decision marks a new milestone in civil rights for Black and disabled persons where policing is concerned. Too often, because of vague race-based suspect description, innocent Black men are mistakenly detained and arrested with great force by police officers who, once they recognize the error, tend to refuse to apologize,” said CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi said.

“Data in the U.S. and Canada have shown that a Black man’s disability, physical or otherwise, is often ignored by police officers who often do not see beyond on race and gender which in turn can lead to regrettable fatal interventions,” said Alain Babineau, CRARR’s Advisor and a retired RCMP officer.

“This speaks to the need for new guidelines and training on suspect descriptions, and better training on dealing with people with visible or invisible disabilities. ¨Most officers are not trained on dealing with people with disabilities, especially people of color with disabilities,” Babineau added.

As with most cases of racial bias in policing, the City of Montreal will not heed the Commission’s recommendation for compliance, the deadline of which is May 30. Instead, the SPVM will wait till the case goes to the Human Rights Tribunal where city lawyers will use procedural measures to have the case dismissed on the basis of excessive delay, among other grounds.