MORE PROBLEMS IN INVESTIGATION INTO RACIAL PROFILING CASES BY QUEBEC HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
Montréal, June 21, 2016 — The Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission’s investigation into racial profiling complaints involving English-speaking Black victims raise new concerns about the agency’s handling of these cases.
In the complaint filed by CRARR for Mr. Abiner Lema, an English-speaking young Black man who was intercepted and then violently arrested by the police in the Notre Dame de Grâce (NDG) district in 2012, the Commission ended the investigation last month, even though the criminal trial was still going on and that the defense had not completed presenting its evidence. In fact, a Black male eyewitness only testified last week. The Commission, however, did not even mention the existence of this witness in its investigation report, nor did it interview this man.
Furthermore, the investigation report reproduced many parts of the police version of facts that were contested by defense counsel in the criminal proceedings. The problem is, the report did not say so, leaving the reader unaware of such challenge of the evidence. CRARR has asked the Commission to correct the report and wait for the court verdict before making a decision on the complaint, but the Commission did not reply.
The haste with which the Commission proceeds in this case to conclude an investigation and render a decision while criminal proceedings are still taking place, and that the court has yet to render its decision, is not an isolated practice.
In another case involving an English-speaking Black couple in NDG, whose husband is charged with a criminal offense after a police intervention in the couple's home in 2012, the Commission's investigation ended its investigation and proceeded to make a decision before the criminal court completed its hearing. It also left out important evidence introduced by the defense in court that calls into question the police version of facts.
According to Mr. Lema's and the other Black couple’s counsel, Me René Saint-Léger, a Black defense lawyer working closely with CRARR, “the Commission’s investigation techniques, and the decision made on the basis of incomplete evidence, or evidence that has been challenged in criminal proceedings, apparently go against fundamental principles of constitutional and administrative law.”
“By excluding key evidence and witnesses, and by reproducing several aspects of the police’s version of facts that were challenged in court, the investigation reports can mislead the Commissioners who make decisions on the cases,” said CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi. “Since most Commissioners have little experience on criminal law and racial profiling, our clients and lawyer's concerns are not unfounded.”
“The Commission’s omission of crucial evidence, deliberate or otherwise, can violate the victims’ Charter right to the equal protection and benefit of the law,” added Me Saint-Léger.
Criminal proceedings involve the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, while civil and administrative proceedings, such as the human rights commission's, relies on a lower evidentiary threshold, that of a preponderance of evidence.
CRARR has expressed its concern in writing to Commission's interim President Camil Picard about these problematic investigative techniques. It also points to the Commission’s failure to examine social context and systemic factors in both cases, such as the record of police-Black relations in NDG, and the pattern of interceptions and escalation of tension leading the arrest of the use of excessive force on Black individuals in the area.
In its 2011 report on racial profiling, the Commission made a formal commitment to take into account the contextual and systemic dimensions in investigating racial profiling complaints. In most CRARR-assisted racial profiling cases handled by the Commission since 2011, this has never been done.