MONTREAL — Anastasia Marcelin, originally from Haiti, says she became an activist after witnessing how city police treated her three younger brothers in their Montreal North neighbourhood.
She was part of a group of citizens at city hall Tuesday who expressed little confidence as the Montreal police force unveiled its latest plan to prevent racial profiling by its officers.
“As soon as a young, black man gets a car — the harassment begins,” Marcelin said in an interview, referring to family and friends who have had run-ins with the police.
“I lived in Montreal North for 15 years, and I’ve witnessed police destroy the lives of young people.”
Incoming police Chief Sylvain Caron and other officers presented councillors with the force’s 2018-21 plan to prevent racial profiling.
The plan is short on details, but it includes steps to hire more visible minorities and to build stronger relationships with community groups.
It also includes a long-awaited promise to begin collecting and analyzing data on complaints against officers accused of racial profiling.
“There is a desire to continue working (to prevent racial profiling),” Caron said to a question from the audience. “We want to do more.”
Marcelin called the plan “a joke.” She said police have promised for years to address complaints of racial profiling and “nothing has changed.”
Most of the questions from people in the council chamber reflected a frustration and anger with the police.
Many people said little has changed in the way police behave towards people living in the Montreal North and St-Michel neighbourhoods, both of which have sizable populations of visible minorities.
Alex Norris, chairman of the public security committee, said the police plan includes “concrete and tangible” steps to address the issue, particularly regarding the collection of profiling data.
“We have reason to be optimistic,” Norris said.
Also on Tuesday, a lawyer working on behalf of the Black Coalition of Quebec announced he is seeking approval for a class action lawsuit against the city of Montreal for alleged racial profiling practices by the police.
Jacky-Eric Salvant said he is seeking $4 million in damages from the city on behalf of people who claim they were singled out by city police officers because of their race.
The main plaintiff is Alexandre Lamontagne, a man of Haitian origin. He says he was stopped by police for no reason in August 2017, according to the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press.
The suit alleges about 500 people have come forward claiming to have been arbitrarily stopped and detained by police for between two and eight hours.
Salvant said the suit will be filed in the coming days once the city has been served with court papers.
Salvant was joined at city hall by Gabriel Bazin, vice-president of the Black Coalition, who told reporters they were both recently racially profiled.
Bazin said they were inside Salvant’s BMW in downtown Montreal and were followed and stopped by police.
“When they stopped him, do you know what was the first question they asked? ’What do you do for a living?’ ” Bazin said. “This is what we live.”
A spokeswoman for the Montreal police force said it would not comment on the class action because it is before the courts.
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press