Racial profiling victory for South Shore man
Published Thursday, September 27, 2012 2:52PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 27, 2012 6:43PM EDT
Joel Debellefeuille feels vindicated after winning a three-year legal battle against Longeuil police for racial profiling.
"I can actually now drive down the street, walk down the street and feel comfortable," said Debellefeuille.
His legal saga began in 2009 and required three court cases before reaching this stage all because police officers repeatedly stopped Debellefeuille while he was driving a new BMW.
Debellefeuille was annoyed by what he felt was unjustified harassment, and when he was stopped by police in Greenfield Park he refused to show his identification.
He argued with the officer only to end up with two tickets; one for refusal to hand over his ID and another because his insurance has expired two days prior.
Debellefeuille paid for the expired insurance ticket, but decided to contest the refusal to provide ID ticket in municipal court.
When he saw the police report a year later, he took his case directly to the Centre for Research on Race Relations.
That's because the police report said the reason for pulling over Debellefeuille was because the officer had run the plate, and decided that a black man could not have a Quebecois name.
Fo Niemi, the director of CRARR, said his organization is seeing a growing number of complaints coming from suburban Montreal, where towns and cities do not necessarily have policies for discrimination and diversity.
"This basically reflects the lack of awareness and the fact that the mayors of these cities don't realize if they don't do anything soon they're going to be sued," said Niemi.
Debellefeuille's case went to trial, where Longueuil municipal court judge Marc Gravel rejected the racial profiling case, even though the officer testified in court that he had only stopped Debellefeuille because of his skin colour.
Debellefeuille appealed and Quebec's Superior Court ruled that Gravel had acted incorrectly in ignoring all the evidence. The higher court ordered a retrial, which Debellefeuille won
"You have the right as an individual, as a Canadian, as a Quebecer, as a human being, to basically, you know, stand up and protect your rights," Debellefeuille said.
Debellefeuille had also filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, but that cannot be pursued because he filed the case more than six months after receving the initial ticket.
He also has a complaint lodged with the Longueuil police ethics commission, which has yet to be resolved.
"My case is just hopefully a stepping stone for everyone else to perhaps follow suit," said Debellefeuille