UPDATE: POLICE ETHICS COMMISSIONER DISMISSED HISPANIC DRIVER'S AGAINST SQ OFFICER FOR LANGUAGE BIAS
Montreal, May 19, 2015 — The Police Ethics Commissioner has dismissed a Hispanic engineer's complaint against a Sûreté du Québec police officer and his employer over race and language bias, as well as excessive force, during a traffic stop downtown last August.
The case was rejected after an unsuccessful attempt at conciliation.
Charged with excessive speed and having his car towed away, Mr. Humberto (not his real name) was particularly offended by the way he was treated by the officer during the stop. Due to his limited French, he first asked the SQ officer, in English, what the problem was since he did not know why the officer followed him for a long time on the Ville-Marie expressway before pulling him over at the corner of Viger and Hôtel de Ville.
Despite his very basic French, Humberto understood that the officer, whose English is limited, became aggressive and told him that he has to speak French in Quebec and that it was the law to do so. The officer became angry when Humberto spoke to him in English and told him that there are two official languages in Canada.
A short exchange occurred, each party went back and forth with obvious linguistic challenges, before another back-up officer arrived.
In the end, Humberto’s car was impounded, before his phone was snatched by the officer from his hand for verification and he was physically roughed up for asking for his phone back.
Humberto ended with two fines totaling over $1,000 for speeding and changing lanes without signaling. In February 2015, he received by mail a third fine of $454 for obstructing a peace officer.
What is particularly disturbing to Humberto is the officer’s aggressive tone upon initial communications, unwarranted use of physical force, and what the officer wrote the following in his report, in French: “le Défendeur exige que je lui parle dans la langue officiel (sic) du Canada, soit “l’anglais” …Il est à noté (sic) que je lui ai parler (sic) en anglais pour faire avancer les choses car il agissait comme un bébé au sujet du langage” (the Defendant requires that I speak to him in the official language of Canada, “English”… it should be noted that I spoke to him in English to move things forward since he acted like a baby over language”).
“It was very clear that the officer’s English is as limited as my French, and that we had problems understanding each other,” said Humberto. “Imagine a police officer making fun of my request for explanations in English by writing that I “acted like a baby.” What does it say about the SQ in terms of serving anglophones, people of color and immigrants?”
“Everyone can tell that I’m Hispanic, that I am new to Canada, that I speak English with a strong Hispanic accent, and that I am struggling to learn French,” added Humberto. “But to charge me with obstruction because I was trying to understand what he was saying in French, is to penalize me for not speaking French.”
Humberto mandated CRARR to file on his behalf a complaint of racial, ethnic and linguistic discrimination with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission.
The case highlights challenges faced by English-speaking racialized persons who complain of discrimination in policing that involve language in addition to race or ethnicity. It also raises the issue of whether police officers working in the Montreal area should have a working knowledge of English.
Last year, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission dismissed a Driving While Black case of an anglophone Black woman in Brossard who, during a police traffic stop, was questioned three times about her length of residency in Quebec in light of her inability to speak French. In this case, the Commission stated that the officer’s questioning of her Quebec residency were not discriminatory, but only “clumsy.”
Similarly, the Police Ethics Commissioner ruled in a case involving English-speaking Black residents of Longueuil that under Law 101, police officers are not obliged to speak English even to residents of municipalities with bilingual status.
The increasingly documented pattern of Quebec public protection agencies' handling of English-speaking racialized complainants' cases raises questions regarding the effective protection of civil rights of members of this double minority, as well as their representation among the staff and decision-makers within these agencies.
The SQ has refused mediation through the human rights commission and the case has been sent to investigation.