Founded in 1983 - United for Diversity and Racial Equality


Montréal, July 16, 2020 —CRARR is calling on Police Ethics Commissioner Marc-André Dowd to appeal a recent Police Ethics Committee decision that would allow the police to single out and detain any Black person suspected of a crime, even when the suspect description does not match.

Qualifying the decision as a dangerous precedent that further legitimizes racial profiling, CRARR is concerned that both the Committee (a specialized administrative tribunal) and the Commissioner failed to adequately address anti-Black racism in this case. CRARR believes that the decision will expand police officers’ discretion at the expense of Black people’s constitutional right to life, liberty, and security of the person.

In a decision dated June 9, 2020 and posted online recently, the Police Ethics Committee ruled that Montreal Police Officer, Olivier Archambault, did not racially profile and illegally detain John Richards back in March 2017, when the then-46 year old Black man was wrongly detained and handcuffed while going to a restaurant in Pointe-Claire with his wife (who is White), his mother-in-law, and his niece.

Richards was stopped by Archambault while walking to the restaurant and told to “get on the ground.” He got on his knees and was quickly handcuffed by Archambault in front of his family, with no explanation offered by the officer as to why this was happening.

When Richards’ wife tried to intervene, Archambault told her that her husband had “just assaulted a bus driver”, not from far from where they were. Richards insisted that he could not have assaulted the driver since he was not on the bus. According to Richards, Archambault continued to reiterate that it must have been him because the suspect was a “Black man and you’re a Black man.”

Richards was on his knees and handcuffed between 15 and 20 minutes. During this time, more police cars arrived, and after checking his ID, it became obvious to the officers that they had the wrong man. Richards was released shortly after, terrified and traumatized from the ordeal.

It turned out that before Richards and his family arrived, a bus driver nearby made an emergency call about being threatened by a Black male, who was described on the police radio as being in his twenties, with a hat and “lines on his shoulders” (this part was quickly corrected), going east towards Penningtons.

Archambault was driving slowly east of Hymus Blvd. when he heard the suspect’s description and saw a Black man (Richards) walking and wearing a grey coat with a hat and horizontal grey stripes. Archambault then asked for radio confirmation of the description of the suspect’s coat. However, before he could get a response, he decided to apprehend Richards.

When asked at the hearing whether Richards’ skin colour played a role in his decision, Archambault said that it was “simply an element of description among others.”
Dismissing the racial profiling charge against Archambault, the Committee ruled that the officer did not “act on the basis of race or colour” or racially profile Richards. The Tribunal added that the officer had valid reasons to detain Richards for investigation, “in light of the violent nature of the offense reported as well as its geographic location”. The Tribunal found it reasonable for Archambault to suspect Richards of being involved in the incident, and that his apprehension would have occurred in the same way had he been White.
“This is a typical case of “Any Negro Will Do!”, said Alain Babineau, CRARR’s Advisor on racial profiling. This popular expression is often used in the describe situations where police officers acting on a vague description of a Black suspect will apprehend the first Black person they come across, regardless of the description.

“It’s very concerning that the Committee failed to see the clear evidence of racial bias in the actions of the police officer. They completely disregarded the fact that the suspect was described as a Black man in his twenties, while Richards was in his mid-forties. From my experience, if Mr. Richards were White, the 20-year age difference would have been considered by any reasonable police officer,” Babineau noted.

“This is a systemic issue, and if unchallenged, this decision will further allow police officers looking for a Black suspect to detain, arrest, and use force on any Black man in the street simply because he happens to be Black. It is a dangerous signal that the tribunal is sending here regarding what standards should apply for the description of a Black suspect,” Babineau added.

“In his role in the fight against racial profiling in policing, this decision must be appealed by the Police Ethics Commissioner,” Babineau concluded.

Mr. Richards was not assisted by CRARR.