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Montréal, August 29, 2017 — A seven-year-long civil rights battle for a former Concordia University Palestinian Canadian student has finally ended in a precedent-setting victory.

In a decision sent to the parties at the end of July, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission asks the City of Montreal and two of its police employees to pay a total of $45,000 to Amal Asmar for racial and social profiling, police brutality, abusive fines and other civil rights violations in an arrest back in February 2010. This is the first time that both racial profiling and social profiling are recognized in the same case.

“It is a long battle, filled with frustrating obstacles, but I am very pleased with this long-awaited victory that will not only restore my civil rights, but that will also serve people of color and the homeless in Montreal,” said Asmar, who is now Maternal Child Health/FASD Coordinator with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council in Saskatchewan.

In February 2010, Asmar, then a Concordia student, was violently detained and arrested by two Montreal Police officersé. Coming from the library at Concordia's downtown campus past midnight, Asmar, who was wearing a keffiyeh (Arabic scarf), was sitting down on a bus stop bench on Saint-Catherine near Atwater, when a police car pulled up in front of her. Asmar had her school bag next to her on the bench and her grocery bag on the ground in front of her.

The two officers, Sébastien Champoux and Michael McIntyre, began aggressively questioning her in English, demanding ID and telling her that the way she was using the bench was against the law. Puzzled by the fact that she would not be allowed to place her school bag on the bench, she asked what law prohibited her from doing so. Asmar was suddenly arrested, dragged to the police vehicle, slammed against the hood and handcuffed. Yelling out in agony, she was frisked then thrown in the police car as her belongings were searched.

When a police supervisor appeared on the scene, the officers told him that Asmar had immediately started screaming like a crazy person and that about twenty minutes earlier, a woman had placed a 9-1-1 call from one of the payphones nearby, but the officers were uncertain from where it had originated. Asmar heard the supervisor ask Officer Champoux multiple times if he was sure that it was Asmar who had placed the 9-1-1 call. Officer Champoux answered that he was sure and that the voice on the 9-1-1 call sounded foreign.

Finally, the two officers released Asmar and threw her bags on the ground. She was denied their badge numbers and left with $1,040 in tickets. The ordeal caused her great physical pain and psychological stress, forcing her to seek medical attention and miss school. When CRARR helped her go public with the ordeal, the City of Montreal (SPVM) withdrew the fines.

CRARR helped her file a complaint with the Police Ethics Commissioner and a civil rights complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission. In 2014, the Police Ethics Committee sanctioned the officers for numerous violations including: illegal detention, illegal arrest, illegal search, and unlawful use of force. Officers Champoux and McIntyre faced a reprimand and a one-day sanction, without pay. However, the racial profiling aspect of her complaint was dismissed by the Committee.

As for her civil rights complaint, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission ruled that the two SPVM officers racially profiled Asmar. In addition, the Commission upheld CRARR's argument that Asmar was also a victim of social profiling, in light of the area where she was arrested and which is known to have a strong presence of homeless women, and the types of fines she received, which are disproportionately issued to homeless people. In sum, to the officers, Asmar fit the profile of a homeless woman and was treated accordingly.

As a result, the Commission demands that the City of Montreal and Officers Champoux and McIntyre jointly pay her moral damages of $30,000. The City is aso asked to pay $10,000 in punitive damages due to the intentional violation of Asmar's civil rights, while the officers have been ordered to pay an additional $2,500 each in punitive damages.

In addition, the Commission asks the SPVM and the City of Montreal, to undertake measures to reform its policies and practices that lead to racial and social profiling (see Backgrounder). According to CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi, the implications of this case are significant.

First, this is very likely the Commission's first decision that recognizes the intersectionality of race and social condition, as it states that Asmar was a victim of both racial and social profiling. In so doing, the Commission opens the door for judicial confirmation of the notions of intersectional discrimination and social profiling, the latter not yet legally affirmed in Quebec.

Secondly, the Commission demands from the City a wide range of systemic remedies that have often been sought in previous occasions, in its 2011 public consultation report on racial profiling, and more recently, at the City's May 2017 consultation on the new action plan on racial and social profiling, but that have been largely ignored by the City. These remedies notably include issues such as the collection and release of race-based data (which the SPVM has stated its refusal to do so), the policy against “incivilities” (which the City has borrowed from New York under Mayor Giuliani's administration to “clean up” the streets), and the adoption of an accountability mechanism for actions of racial or social profiling.

Thirdly, the Commission's finding of racial profiling, where the Police Ethics Committee found none, underlines systemic problems with the police ethics system in handling racial profiling.

“We are pleased to have contributed to this significant position as a student union committed to social justice and anti-oppression,” said Asma Mushtaq, Academic & Advocacy Coordinator at the Concordia Student Union (CSU). Asmar first sought help from the CSU Legal Information Clinic, which referred the case to CRARR.

“This is not the first time our Legal Information Clinic has had to deal with racial profiling and other abusive police practices directed at Concordia students, especially students of color, and we encourage all students who are victims of discrimination to take action,” added Walter Chi Yan Tom, Legal Information Clinic Director.

“This is a major milestone in our fight against racial and social profiling. This decision seems to signal the new direction of the Commission under new leadership since it recognizes systemic discrimination and since it seeks systemic remedies,” said Niemi.

Backgrounder - CDPDJ Decision Asmar-Systemic Remedies.pdf57.31 KB