PEACE OFFICERS NOT UNDER LEGAL OBLIGATION TO COMMUNICATE IN ENGLISH, SAYS QUEBEC’S POLICE ETHICS COMMISSIONER
Montreal, June 27, 2014 --- In a decision which could significantly limit Anglophone Quebecers’ rights, Quebec’s Police Ethics Commissioner affirmed that “in Québec, the official working language is French and that, therefore, a peace officer is under no legal obligation to communicate with a citizen in English while in performance of his or her police duties.”
The case involves a Black Anglophone couple, residing in Brossard, South of Montreal, Dominique Jacobs and Shane James, whose home was invaded by Longueuil police officers last November. Shortly after midnight, the couple was woken up by a police officer, Officer M., who walked into their home without a search warrant and without the couple’s consent, with Ms. Jacobs’ 17 year-old son. The officer walked around their house and conducted an illegal search. Two more police officers had also entered and were in the hallway inside the house. Earlier, Ms. Jacobs’ son and her 19-year old stepson (who is from New Brunswick) had been violently arrested and handcuffed by Officer M. and his colleague while walking home from the bus stop. They were asked whether they spoke French, and when they said no, the two officers refused to tell them the reason for their arrest, and refused to inform them of their constitutional rights.
When Ms. Jacobs came downstairs and asked what went on, she was told to go get her son’s ID. When she handed over her son’s ID, she asked again what he did, and said that the police had no right to be walking around her home, she was told by Officer M. that her son was under arrest for jaywalking and then, to “calm the F- down.” When Officer M. went outside, she went out to ask for his name and badge number and was told by him to “shut the f- up.”
With CRARR’s help, the couple filed complaints with the Police Ethics Commissioner against Officer M. and the other officers regarding the incident inside and outside their home. One aspect of the complaints concerns Officer M.’s use of the F-word, the officers’ penetration into their home without authorization, racial profiling and the failure to act when faced with openly and explicitly inappropriate as well as illegal misconduct. Her son and her step-son filed separate complaints about their arrest and the officers’ refusal to inform them, in English, of the reasons for their arrest.
Two weeks ago, Deputy Police Ethics Commissioner Hélène Tremblay, acting on behalf of the Commissioner, informed the couple in writing that most of their complaints would be dismissed, except for the parts directed at Officer M. She also ruled on arrest of the two youths (although the couple’s complaints did not involve the youths’ arrest), and declared that a police officer in Quebec has no legal obligation to communicate in English in the “performance of his or her duties.”
“The Commissioner is in fact asserting that a police officer’s right to speak French in the “performance of his or her duties” supersedes the rights guaranteed to the detained or arrested individual under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which include the right to be informed of the grounds of his arrest and his constitutional rights, in a language he understands,” noted Stephen De Four-Wyre, CRARR’s Complaints Officer and a McGill law graduate.
“Yet the Supreme Court of Canada imposes a clear legal obligation on police officers to ensure that accused persons understand their Charter rights,” he added.
The SPVL requires, as a hiring criterion on its website, that police officers have a working knowledge of English (see “un choix de vie, un choix de défis”, November 25, 2013, online: http://www.longueuil.ca/en/police-publications).
“We should all be concerned that the Commissioner’s position would have the effect of eroding English-speaking Quebecers’ rights. It is particularly worrisome for English-speaking residents of Brossard, Saint-Lambert, Greenfield Park and other boroughs of Longueuil with a significant English-speaking population,” said Fo Niemi, CRARR’s Executive Director.
The couple has filed for an internal review of the Commissioner’s decision to dismiss.
Last month, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission ruled that it is awkward, but not discriminatory, for a Longueuil police officer to ask a Black Anglophone woman during a routine traffic stop how long she had lived in Quebec and to tell her repeatedly, in an aggressive tone, that she lives Quebec and should speak French.