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


Montréal, July 16, 2019 - A Black single mother on social assistance has filed a complaint with the Police Ethics Commissioner and the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission after being intimidated and threatened with arrest and a criminal charge over a disagreement concerning dental fees.

The incident took place on February 15th, 2019 when Leveesa Lessey, her boyfriend, and her two sons aged 3 and 11 visited a dental clinic in the Centre-Sud district of Montreal. On that day, the family’s long-time dentist was unavailable so Lessey’s youngest son was seen by a different dentist for his fillings.

A misunderstanding occurred between Lessey and the dentist over the services performed on her son. Due to this misunderstanding, the services were not covered under the Public Health Insurance Plan and Lessey was asked to pay $198.00, a substantial amount for a single mother of two on social assistance.

A verbal disagreement ensued between her and the dentist. The dentist had the police called for what he considered to be “theft of services”.

Two policemen arrived. One of them firmly informed her that if she did not pay the entire fee, he would arrest her and bring her before a judge for “theft of services.”

“I was surprised and dismayed that the policeman would bring up arrest and criminal charges in what I considered a civil dispute”, Lessey said.

Fearing arrest, Lessey eventually paid the $198.00 fee but was subsequently banned from returning to the dental clinic and from accessing services from her family’s long-time dentist.

“It was completely devastating,” Lessey said. “It was really embarrassing to be accused of “theft of services”, in front of my children, my boyfriend and other patients. My children were so afraid that their mother was charged with theft and would be arrested by the police,” she said.

"I felt that being a single mother on social assistance was a factor in how I was treated. If I were White, it would have a different outcome. It wouldn't have been so dramatic,” Lessey added.

Like Lessey, CRARR considerers that the police should not have sided with either party in what is an essentially a private civil dispute. In addition, the police officer displayed bias and ignorance of the law by threatening to arrest her for “theft of services”, a criminal offense that exists in the United States but not in Canada.

“We believe that Ms. Lessey was subject to heightened suspicion and differential treatment based on negative stereotypes of the welfare queen, a stigmatizing label that is disproportionately associated with Black single mothers, ” CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi said.

“We need to remain vigilant about the criminalization of poverty and the disturbing trend of private citizens calling the police on Black people for everything and anything,” he concluded.

CRARR helped Lessey file both complaints last month with the Human Rights Commission and the Police Ethics Commissioner.