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Canada Montreal couple preparing human-rights complaint, alleging racial profiling in noise incident

A Montreal couple who were each fined $444 for making too much noise while walking along one of the city’s iconic bar strips at 10 a.m. says they are preparing a human-rights complaint, convinced they were targeted because one of them is black.

Tayana Jacques, a 34-year-old software developer at Ubisoft of Haitian descent, and her white boyfriend, Brian Mann, the 31-year-old executive director at Concordia University’s non-profit television station CUTV, say they were on their way to have breakfast on April 7 and were having a laugh about the waddling gait of the corgi dog breed when police intercepted them saying they were being too loud.

As Mr. Mann spoke with the police, Ms. Jacques said she tried to keep moving along St. Laurent Blvd. when she was grabbed, thrown against a car, searched and handcuffed without explanation. While Mr. Mann watched, other officers arrived on the scene, he said and, without warning, wrestled him to the ground and pepper sprayed him.

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Both were detained in separate cars. Ms. Jacques said police grilled her extensively about drugs and searched her, including a pat-down that included touching her breasts and crotch. Both were released from the police vehicles with the noise fines early in the afternoon.

“I kept asking what I was charged with and they said they’d find something,” Ms. Jacques said. “It made zero sense. I’m a 34-year-old woman on my way to breakfast. They wouldn’t believe I have a good job and kept telling me I look like a drug addict.”

Ms. Jacques and Mr. Mann both say it was clearly a case of racial profiling. She weighs 105 pounds and hadn’t even spoken to the officers when she was arrested first and detained for an extra hour. Mr. Mann was left alone at first and faced no questioning about criminal activities, according to their accounts. Neither have any criminal history.

Fo Niemi, executive director of Montreal’s Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, called it a clear case of “walking while black,” where police officers target a person for their race. “The first problem is the profiling, but what’s also troublesome is how a routine stop escalates into violence, arrest and extravagant fines in a way that doesn’t happen to others,” Mr. Niemi said.

He said he sees people of colour bringing profiling complaints to his group four or five times a month. Most people do not wish to make their cases public for fear of reprisals, he said. “We see a lot of immigrants who are afraid of making their situation worse,” he said.

Montreal police said they would not comment on the complaint.

Just last month, the force and two officers were ordered to pay $12,000 to a man of Ghanaian origin who was stopped while driving and ended up handcuffed with his car impounded for a broken tail light. Human Rights Tribunal judge Mario Gervais called it racial profiling, saying the man was questioned three times and searched twice because he was a “young man with black skin, along with a stereotype of a presumption of criminality.”

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Late last year, an expert report commissioned by Montreal police showed it has done little to address racial profiling despite coroner’s recommendations and human-rights tribunal rulings that have cost tens of thousands of dollars. Only 7 per cent of Montreal police officers are visible minorities compared with 30 per cent of the city’s population.

Montreal’s new Mayor, Valérie Plante, came to office promising greater transparency on the force. City officials declined to comment on the weekend.

Ms. Jacques wants the police to get sensitivity and psychological training. She’s been off work for a couple weeks from the stress and anticipates returning in a couple more.

“When a white person walks out of their house, they never have to think about this,” she said. “I have to worry about this every second I’m on the street.”

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