“BLACK LIVES ARE CHEAP IN QUEBEC”: HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION SEEKS PALTRY $2,000 AWARD FOR RACIAL PROFILING VICTIM
Montréal, November 30, 2016 — In a decision on a case filed five years ago by a Black urban entertainment professional, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission has ruled that he was indeed a victim of racial profiling by the Montreal Police and awarded a meagre sum of $2,000 in moral damages.
In a decision issued last month after five years of investigation, the Commission concluded that Marcus Gordon, a young Black man who wears long dreadlocks, and his white fiancée, Julie Mercier, were victims of racial profiling by police officers in May 2011 as they left an evening tribute to Bad News Brown at the Metropolis theater. Bad News Brown was a popular local Black hip hop artist who was later killed by unidentified individuals.
Gordon and Mercier had left the Metropolis around midnight, and were walking toward their car, parked on St. Catherine St. across from the concert hall. There was little traffic on the street. A dozen police officers belonging to the anti-gang squad, Eclipse, were standing in front of the Metropolis, wearing black gloves.
Three police officers, including Officer Danik Tanguay, intercepted the couple as they crossed the street and fined them $37 each for jaywalking. While being fined by the police officers, Gordon noticed several white pedestrians crossing the street, without being stopped by the officers, let alone fined (see YouTube, Long Life Productions x Racial Profiling in Montreal by Eclipse Police, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knV-_5AEst8). The couple was later found guilty in Municipal Court.
A few days later, Gordon and Mercier mandated CRARR to file complaints on their behalf, claiming racial profiling and bias on the part of the police officers. In the complaints to the Human Rights Commission, CRARR claimed $10,000 in damages for each.
Despite the straightforward facts, the Commission took almost four years to complete the investigation of the complaint. Further, even though the investigation was completed in January 2015, the Commission’s Complaints Committee only decided the case in October 2016. Despite CRARR’s enquiry, the Commission declined to explain the 1.5 year wait.
Gordon expressed his dismay and disbelief at the Commission’s proposed $2,000 award. “Five years of investigation, and they come up with such a paltry amount for moral damages? It comes out to $400 per year. Is that the costs of racial profiling and violation of my civil rights by the police, in the eyes of the Commission?”, asked Gordon. “For some, Black lives are cheap in Quebec,” he added.
“As a Black man, I cannot accept to be lowered to this level,” Gordon stated.
For CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi, the meagre moral damage amount coupled with the absence of punitive damages, sets a new low for the Human Rights Commission in the fight against racial profiling. Several courts in Quebec and the rest of Canada on racial profiling have set $10,000 as a basic standard for moral damages.
“In 2006, the Commission’s award for moral damages in some of our first racial profiling cases was $10,000. Ten years later, it’s $2,000. This goes against inflation, against case law, and against common sense,” Niemi said.
“We are concerned that this decision sets a disturbing precedent. It does not send a very dissuasive message to police officers and departments that practice racial profiling. It can conversely be seen as a very persuasive message to victims of racial profiling that it is not worth filing complaints with the Commission”, noted Niemi.
CRARR has made a request to the Commission’s interim President, Camil Picard, to review the decision.
Currently, there are no racialized managers or members at the Commission. A Black Commissioner and an Indigenous Commissioner have recently resigned and another Black Commissioner passed away last summer, leaving the Commission without any racialized or English-speaking member who, among other functions, make decisions on cases through the Complaints Committee.