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Montréal, July 19, 2020 —Three years after he was violently and wrongfully arrested in a case of mistaken identity, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission has ruled that the Montreal Police and two of its officers have racially profiled a Côte-Des-Neiges Black man, and violated his civil rights.

In the evening of February 18, 2017, Errol Burke, a then 54-year-old Black man and Cote-des-Neiges resident, was riding his bicycle to the Dépanneur Bon Soleil, located on Decarie boulevard, to buy milk. As he was about to enter the store, two SPVM police officers came running towards him with their handguns pointed in his direction. Burke put his hands in the air and asked them what was going on, to which he received no response. One of the police officers told him to turn around with his hands in the air. He complied and asked the officers again why they were arresting him.

Instead of responding to Burke’s question, one officer slammed him face-first against the door of the dépanneur. A second officer grabbed him by the head, pushed him violently to the floor, and proceeded to drag his body outside on the concrete ground. When Burke asked again why they were doing this to him, he was told to “shut up” and to stop resisting arrest. Once he was outside, an officer got onto his back and began to handcuff him tightly.

After Burke was groped and searched for several more minutes, the police officers determined that they had arrested the wrong man. There had recently been a stabbing in the area, the police were looking for a suspect, and in their opinion, Burke fit the suspects' description. Burke was released, with practically no apology or support from the police.

He experienced deep stress, humiliation and long-lasting physical pain in his back and neck, for which he sought medical help the day after.

According to 911 records, the suspect was a slim Black man in his 20s, measuring 1 m 85, and wearing military-style white khaki pants with camouflage patterns and a black coat. Burke is in his 50s and bald, measures 1 m 75, and has light skin. He wore marine blue sports pants with two stripes on each side, and a parka with black and brown camouflage patterns.

“I did not remotely fit the description,” said Burke. “But as they say, ‘any Negro will do’, since for police officers with little training on racism and life experiences with people of colour, all Black men look alike, and we are all assumed to be guilty until proven innocent,” he added.

“I’m pleased that the Commission and the Commissioner have ruled in my favour. What they did to me was discriminatory and excessive, the police must be held accountable,” he said.

With CRARR’s help, Burke filed complaints with the Police Ethics Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission. At first, the Commissioner rejected the case, stating that the officers had reasonable grounds to suspect that he “could correspond to the profile of the wanted suspect, … a Black man dressed practically like him.” CRARR successfully appealed the dismissal decision. The Commissioner ordered an inquiry, and in February 2020, issued citations to officers Pierre Auger and Jean-Philippe Théorêt for racial discrimination, being impolite, unlawful detention, arrest and search, excessive force, and lack of concern for Burke’s health and safety.

In its decision released last month, the Human Rights Commission found that Burke was racially profiled and detained, arrested, searched and interrogated without reasonable grounds, and that the two officers used disproportionate force against him. It asks that the City and the two officers pay him $35,000 in moral damages, and that each officer pay him $5,000 in punitive damages.

The Commission also demands that the SPVM add in its Strategic Plan for Social and Racial Profiling the recognition of unconscious racial bias and anti-Black bias; consequences of racial bias on its victims; training for all officers, supervisors and managers; and formal evaluation of training. Finally, the Commission asks that the SPVM collect and publish race-based data on police interceptions.

“It’s time for police services to end the dangerous practice of ‘Any Negro Will Do’. Stop thinking that all Black people look alike and stop acting as if their lives don’t matter,” CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi said.

It is expected that the Montreal Police will not comply with the Commission’s decisions, which means that Burke’s case will head to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.

Last month, the Police Ethics Committee ruled that it was reasonable for a Montreal police officer to jump on and handcuff a 46-year-old Black man in Pointe-Claire in 2017, despite the fact that the suspect was a Black man in his twenties. CRARR has called on the Commissioner to appeal the decision, which sets a dangerous precedent.