THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF FREDY VILLANUEVA’S DEATH: SPEEDY REFORMS ARE URGENTLY NEEDED
Montreal, August 9, 2013 --- Coming in the shadow of the fatal shooting of 18 year-old Sammy Yatim in Toronto last month, the fifth anniversary of Freddy Villanueva’s death, which resulted from a Montreal Police intervention in a park in Montreal North on August 9, 2008, is the appropriate time to renew public calls for better police practices and civil rights protections.
Events in recent months show that action is urgently needed with respect to the following seven issues:
1. End the system of the police investigating the police in cases of serious injury and death subsequent to police intervention: Despite Bill 12, introduced last Fall by the Quebec government to replace the present system with a Bureau of Independent Investigations, there is still no clear timetable as to when this Bureau will be set up;
2. Review police training on and use of excessive or lethal force, especially when such force is used too readily through firearms and tasers in police interactions with youth, racialized men and persons with discernible mental disabilities;
3. Enact tough policies against racial profiling: Major police departments, such as those in Laval and Longueuil, still do not have policies, training and monitoring on racial profiling. Many police, public transit and private security services still deny that profiling exists and resist implementing concrete measures such as data collection on stops. An effective policy against racial profiling must also curtail police actions against “incivilities”, a strategy that disproportionately subjects racialized youths and the homeless to hefty fines;
4. Improve civil rights protections: Since 2010, far too few cases of racial profiling are brought before and adjudicated by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal (two) and the Police Ethics Committee (six, with one favorable ruling). Barriers to effective protections include: excessive delays (up to five years to complete an investigation), timid damages sought for victims and ongoing failure to tackle systemic racism, at the human rights commission, and the absence of a racial profiling policy by the Police Ethics Commissioner, resulting in complaints of racial bias being inadequately addressed. Both agencies still fail to have among its investigative staff, persons who are most targeted by racial profiling and who can bring first-hand knowledge to the job – specifically Black men;
5. Enhance fair access to the judiciary: Despite a few encouraging decisions (notably, those on the Joel Debellefeuille case), there have been several inconsistent judgments on racial profiling from different tribunals. This problem reflects, in part, the serious underrepresentation of racial diversity within the judiciary at all levels, and the lack of comfort and competence among many White judges to address racism;
6. Reform legal aid eligibility: Under existing rules, persons charged with a criminal offense who would normally be eligible for legal aid can still be denied such funding if there is a low or no risk of imprisonment. Many accused end up without counsel and plead guilty. This policy is particularly detrimental to young Black and other racialized men who are stopped by the police at disproportionately high rates;
7. Elect officials who are committed to equality and inclusive justice: Despite talks about “fundamental values”, successive Justice and Public Security ministers in recent years have shown little interest in effective protection of minorities from racial discrimination, which is among the most basic values in a liberal democracy. Similarly, too few municipal politicians have put forward a comprehensive plan to combat racial profiling and discrimination in different sectors of urban life.
CRARR also calls upon members of communities most affected by racial profiling and discrimination, and their allies, to engage in sustained actions to bring about the much needed changes. Filing complaints, demanding reforms and, this Fall, voting in great numbers in the upcoming municipal election, are but a few actions that can be taken.