Montreal police operate with a culture of impunity fuelled by indifference in the city administration to complaints of racial profiling, violence and other forms of discrimination, according to a new report on systemic racism in the city.
The police force also works without data and concrete objectives for diversifying its work force, a vacuum that has made it unrepresentative of the community, much like other Montreal city departments, the report by the city’s independent public consultation office says.
Public consultations with a broad mandate to study systemic racism in the administration of the city of Montreal began two years ago. The Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) heard from 7,000 people who recounted stories of profiling, hiring and promotion roadblocks, and both overt and subtle discrimination.
The report landed as systemic racism and police discrimination have been pushed to the top of the public agenda. A series of violent incidents involving police in the United States and Canada have triggered protests and challenged leaders to act.
Long-standing denial that systemic racism is a problem is entrenched in Montreal’s city administration while the police hierarchy flip-flops on the existence of racial profiling and other forms of discrimination, said the report. It issued 38 recommendations including better data collection, enforcement of hiring targets, improved training and more responsive oversight mechanisms for the police and the city.
“How can you effectively and efficiently fight against racism if you don’t acknowledge it exists and don’t have data on what to change?” Dominique Ollivier, head of the OCPM, said in an interview. “There is no culture of evaluation in the city. They give themselves broad goals so any little thing can be called success."
About 35 per cent of Montrealers identify as racialized or Indigenous people. About 19 per cent of the city’s work force are from those groups, an increase from 12.3 per cent 10 years earlier. For Montreal police, the figure was 7.7 per cent in 2019. Less than 2 per cent of city’s senior managers are racialized people. “They haven’t hired a single manager in three years from visible minorities or Indigenous groups,” Ms. Ollivier said.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante responded Monday by formally acknowledging at City Hall that systemic racism exists and vowing to appoint a commissioner to fight discrimination. However she offered no new steps to increase work-force or management diversity. “The city must be an exemplary employer," she said. "We have to hit the accelerator to meet our targets. We can and must do better.”
A spokesman for the Montreal police said Chief Sylvain Caron would not comment on the report Monday. The police force sent out a statement Monday evening acknowledging the existence of systemic racism and vowing to fight it. In July, Chief Caron is set to release a new policy on street identification checks, known in some jurisdictions as carding.
Quebec Premier François Legault announced Monday he is creating a provincial task force to draft an anti-racism action plan by Christmas. Mr. Legault does not recognize systemic racism exists in Quebec but said the task force will address racism in public security, the justice system, the workplace, education and housing.
Mr. Legault said that, in order to expedite action on a long-studied issue, the task force will consist only of cabinet ministers and government MNAs. Mr. Legault put two Black ministers in charge of the task force: Nadine Girault, a former executive in the financial industry, and Lionel Carmant, a physician.
“I am not going to spend my time trying to find a definition of systemic racism that will be acceptable to everyone,” Ms. Girault said. “To recognize the problem is part of the solution, but we must go forward and create a clear obligation for results.”
Montreal’s racism report was the product of provisions in the city’s charter that allow citizens to petition for such consultations. Balarama Holness, one of the organizers who gathered 22,000 signatures to force the study, was pleased with its concrete recommendations but split on the political reaction.
“François Legault doesn’t recognize systemic racism but seems to be taking concrete steps to do something about it. Valérie Plante recognizes systemic racism on a symbolic level and is doing nothing about it,” said Mr. Holness, who is a McGill law student and founder of Montreal in Action, a human-rights advocacy group.
Mr. Holness, like Ms. Ollivier, expressed some optimism that protest and public attention might lead to action. “Let’s hope this is a step to creating a new legacy of equality,” he said, “even if we all know equality is a pursuit, not a destination.”
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