UPDATE: POLICE ETHICS COMMISSIONER ACCEPTS COMPLAINT OF BIASED POLICE CONDUCT IN CONSUMER RACIAL PROFILING CASE
Montréal, December 6, 2016 — An English-speaking Black mother accused of theft at Maxi in Lasalle and forcefully expelled by two police officers has successfully filed a request for review of the Deputy Police Ethics Commissioner’s decision to reject her case at the outset.
The complaint is now headed for conciliation under the Commissioner's auspices, next February.
The Deputy Commission’s original reasoning as cited in the rejection letter received by the mother last October, raises questions about the Commissioner’s ability to correctly and equitably handle complaints of police racial bias, especially when this is bias is implicit or systemic in the context of consumer racial profiling.
The case involved two Black women, a mother and her daughter in her mid-twenties, who were accused of theft at the Maxi store on Newman Avenue, in Lasalle, in February 2016. Immediately after being stopped and accused by the store staff in front of other customers, mother and daughter repeatedly asked why were they accused and offered to have their bags checked. Both women were simply ignored by the store’s supervisor and manager who instead of trying to de-escalate the situation, decided to call the police.
When the police arrived, both officers refused to listen to the women’s version; one officer was unjustifiably hostile towards them. The other officer even repeated the Maxi staff’s accusation that a witness saw the mother put unpaid items into her daughter’s school bag. The officers failed, and in fact refused, to examine the women’s bags despite their repeated requests. Without warning, one officer threw the daughter’s school bag outside the store while the other physically pushed the mother out of the store. Both officers told mother and daughter that they were unwelcome at the Maxi store.
In other words, although both women were falsely accused of theft, the police officers never tried to check this aspect , but proceeded instead to physically expel them from the store.
The mother filed a complaint against the two police officers with the Police Ethics Commissioner, for racially biased conduct. In addition, two civil rights complaints were filed by CRARR on their behalf.
At the outset, Deputy Police Ethics Commissioner Hélène Tremblay, instead of seriously considering the seriousness of police misconduct and bias, invoked the wide-ranging powers and considerable autonomy conferred to police officers by the legislator.
The Deputy Commissioner instead placed the responsibility of the incident on the mother and her daughter for their non-cooperation and behavior which contributed to the incident. The Deputy Commissioner has chosen to blame the victims, suggesting that the pair were the authors of their own misfortune, as a result of their uncooperative behavior. Deputy Commissioner Tremblay further suggested that because no criminal complaint was filed against the mother and daughter, the complaint against the police did not merit further inquiry.
In her complaint, the mother stated that not only the police officers refuse to hear her version but they displayed from the outset an openly hostile attitude towards the Black women. Furthermore, while accusing them of theft, they refused to check their bags for suspected stolen goods.
Instead, they physically pushed Samantha from the store and threw the daughter’s schoolbag outside the Maxi store without explanation. They also refused to identity themselves, while the police department refused to send another police officer to look into the situation as the mother requested in 911.
“The Deputy Commissioner’s three-page decision not only shows an inherent bias in favor of the police officers, but also clearly demonstrate a lack of understanding of consumer racial profiling and how police officers’ behavior can contribute to it,” said the mother. “The police officers sided with the store as if their main role was to protect Maxi’s economic interest, and the Deputy Commissioner sided with the police officers without even investigating the incident.”
CRARR helped the mother file for a review of the Deputy Commissioner's decision to reject.
“This decision adds to our list of examples of institutions' pushback on complaints filed by Black and racialized people against the police,” noted CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi. “Hopefully, it will help build a body of precedents in terms of the police's role in consumer racial profiling.”