A “MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO TACKLE RACIAL PROFILING”: POLICE ETHICS COMMISSIONER DROPPED JOEL DEBELLEFEUILLE'S CASE
Montréal, October 7, 2016 - The Police Ethics Committee has endorsed the Police Ethics Commissioner's withdrawal of the citations against two Longueuil police officers who, in the Commissioner's view, had engaged in racial profiling by tailing Mr. Joel Debellefeuille for blocks when he was driving his son to daycare in Brossard, back in 2012.
In a decision released several days ago, the Committee, an administrative tribunal set up to rule on police misconduct complaints, dismissed the case against officer Dominic Polidoro because his partner, officer Jean-Claude Bleu Voua was found guilty of driving under the influence in 2014 and was dismissed by the City of Longueuil in 2015. The whereabouts of Bleu Voua, who is Black, are presently unknown.
In March 2012, while Mr. Debellefeuille was driving his son in his BMW to daycare in Brossard, a municipality south of Montreal. His wife sat in the passenger's side of the car. Bleu Voua and Polidoro, who were driving in the opposite direction, made a U-turn and tailed Mr. Debellefeuille's car for 11 blocks. As Mr. Debellefeuille stopped his car in front of the daycare center and carried his son inside, the police car drove on and made a U-turn to intercept Mr. Debellefeuille.
Officer Polidoro demanded to see his ID. Mr. Debellefeuille informed him that he was still carrying his son to go inside. When he came back outside, Mr. Debellefeuille gave his ID to officer Polidoro and asked the reason for the ID check. Officer Polidoro informed him that he and his colleague just wanted to “verify.” When Mr. Debellefeuille asked: “Verify what?”, officer Polidoro said: “We verify all kinds of cars each day.” At one point, the head of the daycare center came out and expressed her displeasure at the way the officers conducted the stop and check.
Mr. Debellefeuille then mandated CRARR to file a police ethics complaint and a civil rights complaint against the officers. After investigating, the Commissioner cited both officers, and named Bleu Voua in particular, for racial discrimination/profiling, and failure to respect the law, before the Police Ethics Committee.
Bleu Voua's guilty verdict, dismissal and uncertain whereabouts were the main reasons leading the Commissioner to drop the case altogether, because the latter needed Bleu Voua to prove the case.
Mr. Debellefeuille had wanted the case to proceed because, in his opinion, Polidoro should still assume his share of responsibility for having participated in race-based acts with Bleu Voua. However, the Commissioner detains all evidence and is the sole party to bring a case before the Committee. Mr. Debellefeuille had no choice but to follow the Commissioner's decision (the Committee's decision states that he “agrees” with it, which is incorrect).
“Both CRARR and I had hoped that the Commissioner would proceed, since we believe that Polidoro should still be held responsible, but obviously the Commissioner decided otherwise,” said Mr. Debellefeuille. “Sadly, it's a missed opportunity for both the Commissioner and the Committee to address racial profiling in the City of Longueuil,” Mr. Debellefeuille noted.
This is the second time that Mr. Debellefeuille has brought complaints of racial profiling against Longueuil police officers. In the first case, the Committee imposed, in 2012, a five-day suspension without pay on the two officers who stopped him in 2009 while driving his BMW because one officer wrote in his report, “the vehicle belongs to a certain Debellefeuille, Joel. It was a Black man who did not correspond at first sight to the owner. Debellefeuille sounds like a Québécois family name and not of another origin.”
His complaint about the 2012 interception is still under investigation at the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission.
“Because it is against both officers personally and the City as their employers, we hope that the Commission will still proceed despite former officer Bleu Voua's unknown whereabouts, and render a decision before the fifth anniversary of the incident, i.e. March 2017,” added CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi.
Mr. Debellefeuille also has a third civil rights complaint filed against two other Longueuil police officers due to another interception last October; this case is still under investigation.