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Montreal, February 5, 2012 --- A Black health care professional has been awarded $23,000 by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission as a result of a racial profiling incident in a Montreal metro station in February 2010.

The decision, which sets a major precedent not only for the amount of damages sought, but also for the systemic measures the Commission has ordered to address the problem of racial profiling within the public transit system, was announced today at a press conference in Little Burgundy, a center-city neighborhood. Measures include those related to staffing and proof of payment (POP) checks in public transit.

An English-speaking man who looks much younger than his age, Mr. V., in his 50s, was on his way home from work when the incident occurred. He arrived at Lionel Groulx metro station close to midnight and was hurrying to catch his bus when he heard a voice mumble something in French. Mr. V., whose French is limited, did not realize that he had been addressed by an inspector of the Montreal Transit Authority (MTA), so he kept walking. He was then grabbed by the inspector and, within seconds, six other inspectors arrived and pushed him violently to a corner in the station. The inspectors violently arrested Mr. V., handcuffed him, and dragged him into a closed room without informing him of the reason for his arrest.

They then searched him and his bag. Afterwards, they slipped a $324 ticket (for obstructing an inspector’s work) into his coat pocket and led him into a public area where they uncuffed him. In a state of shock, Mr. V. asked the inspectors for an explanation; they grabbed him by the collar and forced him up the escalator towards the exit, threatening to give him another ticket if he did not leave. When he tried to ask again for an explanation, they threw him out of the station. It took Mr. V. almost half an hour to recover from the assault before he was able to take the bus home. Once he arrived at home, Mr. V. broke down. He was unable to sleep or go to work the next day.

In February 2010, CRARR and Desta, a local Black group, held a community meeting in Little Burgundy to discuss the MTA's practice of selective POP checks and issuance of fines. It was only after attending this meeting that Mr. V. realized that his was not an isolated case. Like several other Black public transit users, he mandated CRARR to file a civil rights complaint on his behalf for racial profiling. He also successfully fought the fine in municipal court.

Last week, the Commission concluded that Mr.V. had indeed been a victim of racial profiling and other civil rights violations, including excessive use of force, detention, illegal search of his coat and bag, and abusive fine.

The Commission ordered the MTA and four inspectors to pay $15,000 in moral damages. In addition, the four inspectors were ordered to pay $8,000 in punitive damages. In response to CRARR's claims, the Commission also ordered the MTA to:

  • Adopt policies which prohibit the use of racial profiling when checking public transit users for proof of payment;
  • Collect and publish, in a systematic fashion, data based on the race of individuals implicated in inspectors' interventions;
  • Adopt directives to allow for the detection and control of racial profiling actions among its inspectors and
  • Enact measures to ensure that the hiring, evaluation and promotion of inspectors take into account cultural competencies.
  • “For two years, the Montreal Transit Authority tried to make a criminal out of me, and tried to destroy my dignity, my safety and my civil rights as a free Black man in this city,” said Mr. V. “In the old days, they wanted us to go to the back of the bus; today, they want to profile and destroy us psychologically, financially and legally. Today, they lost.”

    “My battle of the last two years is not only a personal struggle against the evil of racial profiling in public transit, but also for the dignity and freedom of all public transit riders, be they Black, brown or white,” he said.

    “To all members of the Black community, especially young people, I can only say this: Rise up, stand up for your rights. If I can do it, you can too. Yes, we can bring down the walls of racial injustice.”

    Fo Niemi, CRARR's Executive Director, who worked on the case with McGill social work intern Elena Toews and law interns Nicole Duong and Anthony Morgan over the last two years, added: “This is one of the most significant decisions against racial profiling in public transit in Canada, and we are pleased that the human rights commission finally seized this opportunity to confront racial profiling in the Montreal public transit system.”

    “If the case goes to court, it will provide us with a rare opportunity to closely examine the MTA's inspection service, staffing practices and compliance with civil rights laws in its operations. CRARR has five other cases involving people of colour of all ages who were treated in a discriminatory and abusive manner by the MTA.”

    The MTA has until February 17, 2012 to comply with the order to pay Mr. V. and enact the anti-racial profiling measures. If it fails to do so, the case will be brought by the Commission before the Human Rights Tribunal.