RACIAL PROFILING CASE AGAINST BMO HEADS TO THE CANADIAN HUMAN RIGHTS TRIBUNAL
Montreal, February 10, 2014 --- The Canadian Human Rights Commission has upheld a racial profiling complaint filed against BMO by CRARR, on behalf of an English-speaking Black bank customer, and referred the case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for an inquiry.
In Summer 2012, CRARR filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission on behalf of a Black BMO client who was the victim of racial profiling, and what is known as the “Any Negro Will Do” practice, when he went to the bank to withdraw money.
Wayne, a Black professional in his early thirties, was suddenly stopped by a police vehicle near a BMO branch location in Laval after having withdrawn money from an ATM machine. A number of police arrived on the scene and Wayne’s car was intercepted. A police officer pulled out his gun and told Wayne to remain still in his car. The police were acting on information provided by a BMO employee, who had mistaken Wayne for one of two male bank robbers suspected in a string of bank robberies in the Laval area.
Despite the fact that Wayne bore little to no resemblance to the blurry pictures of the Black male suspects BMO had circulated amongst its employees – having a larger build, an older appearance, and a lighter skin tone than the suspect – he was arrested, handcuffed and detained in a police car for over 30 minutes simply because he shared the same skin color.
Although Wayne was released, he was understandably shaken by the incident. The absence of a formal and sincere apology from BMO or its employee as well as the experience of fearing for his life prompted him to take action. He mandated CRARR to file a race profiling complaint on his behalf with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which accepted and investigated the case.
As part of its defense, BMO submitted a picture of Wayne to the Commission. BMO provided a picture of Wayne taken while he was using another BMO ATM six months after the incident occurred; the BMO blurry picture of Wayne sporting loose athletic clothes that bore little to no resemblance to either suspect (one of whom was physically identifiable in a video).
Last month, the Commission concluded that it “is not satisfied that the decision to contact the police to report the presence of the complainant at the respondent’s branch was not based on racial profiling” and decided that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hear the case.
While the case is heading to the Tribunal, likely making it the first time that a Canadian bank is brought before the federal Tribunal for racial profiling, privacy issues are also being raised as Wayne never consented to his pictures being taken and used in that manner. As well, Wayne is disturbed at the possibility of being photographically tracked by BMO over an extended period as a result of his racial profiling complaint.
Wayne’s ordeal reflects a sad truth experienced by many Black men living in both Canada and United States. All too often, innocent Black persons are exposed to disproportionate scrutiny and harm because police officers and other authorities are acting on vague, race-based suspect descriptions and circulate these in police communications. In most other instances, Black persons are being arrested for sharing nothing more than the same race or skin color as the suspect.
The omission of other pertinent physical descriptors such as height, weight, skin tone and hair, in sweeping race-based “they all look the same” generalizations produces disproportionate adverse effects on Black men, including but not limited to: unjustified detention, wrongful arrest, excessive use of force, and at times fatalities.
CRARR has repeatedly called on human rights commissions and police services to adopt policy guidelines on the use of race in law enforcement activities, similar to those in the United States, to avoid communicating vague race-based suspect descriptions and subjecting Black men in particular to potential harm. To date, there has been no policy action to this effect.