JUNO-NOMINATED ARTIST FREDDIE JAMES FILES RACIAL PROFILING COMPLAINT AGAINST THE MONTREAL POLICE
Montreal, February 11, 2015 — Freddie James, a Juno-nominated artist and leader of the Freddie James Project, is filing a civil rights complaint against three Montreal Police officers with racial profiling, excessive force and abusive arrest.
On Wednesday, January 25, 2015 at approximately 10 pm, Mr. James and his girlfriend were driving in his BMW, coming back from a soccer game. As they passed a nearby small business strip at the corner of René Émard Ave. and Pierrefonds Blvd. in Pierrefonds, a West-Island municipality, Mr. James noticed a fancy shoe store. The couple stopped in front of the store, which was closed, to take a look at running shoes. As he began to move on, he noticed a police car coming up behind his BMW.
The BMW continued to drive east on Pierrefonds Blvd. for a couple of minutes and approximately 2 km when Mr. James noticed the police vehicle catching up with his car, at a high speed. The police car then turned its light on and pulled him over, at the corner of Westpark Blvd and Pierrefonds Blvd.
A white male officer came over and asked for his license and registration. Mr. James said “Ok” and asked the officer if he had done anything wrong; the officer did not tell him the reason and kept asking whether he refused to show his IDs and insisting on seeing his papers. Mr. James answered that he was not refusing but just wanted to know the reason for the stop.
The officer then warned Mr. James that if he refused to hand over his car papers, he could be arrested. Still wanting to know why he was being pulled over, Mr. James asked to speak to a supervisor. The officer told him to call 9-1-1 if he wanted to speak to one, which Mr. James did.
At this point, another police vehicle arrived. Two police officers, one male and one female, came to Mr. James' window and bluntly told him to get out of the car. Without any further warning or giving Mr. James a chance to comply, the two officers suddenly opened the driver door, grabbed his neck and violently dragged him out of his seat while he still had his phone in his hand.
Mr. James was pushed to the back of the police car, placed against the hood, with his arms pulled backward, and then handcuffed. He was told to show his ID and then he would be released. Mr. James' girlfriend found the car papers and handed them to the first police officer. In the end, Mr. James was released and fined $162 for refusing to provide to a peace officer his driver's license. He paid for the ticket 4 days later.
Troubled by the excessive force and the fact that the initial officer chased and stopped him, Mr. James discussed the incident with a friend, Mr. Joel Debellefeuille, who was tailed and stopped while driving his BMW by the Longueuil Police in the south-shore municipality in 2009 and in 2012, and who successfully challenged the officers in courts for racial profiling (Mr. Debellefeuille's 2012 incident will be heard by the police ethics tribunal next May). Mr. James decided afterwards to take action by mandating CRARR to file a complaint on his behalf with the Quebec human rights commission.
“All I wanted to know was why he stopped me, especially after he chased me at a high speed, since I didn't do anything,” said Mr. James at a press conference held today in Montreal. “Like any driver, I have the right to ask and as a matter of courtesy, I have the right to an answer, instead of getting none and being dragged out of my car like a criminal and arrested over a routine traffic stop. Had I been alone, it could have been worse.”
“This incident shows once again that the Montreal Police Department still has serious problems in dealing with Black residents of this city and that there still are police officers who obviously need more training about courtesy, racism and the use of physical force,” he added. “Obviously, in Montreal, some police officers don't understand that Black Lives Matter.”
“The thing is that in Montreal, if you're Black and drive a BMW or a nice car, you'll surely be stopped by the police for a so-called routine traffic stop,” said Mr. Debellefeuille. “And the chance is that during the stop, you're not entitled to professional treatment, the presumption of innocence, or to the right to physical safety or dignity if you're Black and English-speaking,” he observed.
Mr. James' mother, former American-born R & B singer Geraldine Hunt, spoke of the fear for her son and her teen-age grandson's safety in their future interactions with the Montreal police.
“Having lived through the Martin Luther King years, I call on Black people of all ages to stand their ground when it comes to their civil rights,” said Ms. Hunt.
On behalf of Mr. James, CRARR will file in the coming days a civil rights complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, despite growing evidence in recent months of the Commission's problems in addressing racism in policing due to the government’s budget cuts and other internal issues (such as staff with difficulties in handling complaints of racism from English-speaking victims, frequent failure to take into account evidence submitted by complainants, and regular refusal to examine systemic racism and social context).