Black man told 'they shoot people like you' wins racial profiling case against Laval police officer
MONTREAL -- A Laval police officer racially profiled a Black man during a stop at a gas station in 2017 and violated the ethics code by shoving him and deleting the man’s cellphone recording of the interaction, Quebec’s police ethics committee has ruled.
In a blistering decision released last week, the panel chastised officer Michael Boutin for knocking the man’s Samsung phone out of his hand and then getting him to unlock it so that he could erase the footage.
At the end of the May 14, 2017 altercation at the Laval gas station over an alleged distracted driving violation, the police officer told Pradel Content, who is Black, that he’s lucky to live in Quebec rather than the United States “because they shoot people like you there,” the committee's written decision quoted the officer as saying.
Content, according to the decision, fired back: “but at least the police are shot back.”
At a virtual news conference Friday, Content said it’s been a “hard and grueling” road to hold the officer accountable but is happy with the decision rendered by the committee.
“It's not something you'd like to hear. I wasn't frightened — I was shocked,” Content said of the officer’s “condescending” comments to him that day.
He acknowledged that if it weren’t for the surveillance footage from the gas station on des Laurentides Boulevard, the case could have had a very different outcome.
“The gas station footage saved me because the footage I originally had, he deleted it. So that leaves me with nothing, which is terrifying,” he said.
The officer handed Content a $127 traffic ticket after the 2017 encounter. Not only did he contest the ticket — and win — he also filed complaints with the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission, and the province’s Police Ethics Committee over his treatment four years ago.
While his case is still before the tribunal, he already won the case with the human rights commission in October 2020 and was awarded $24,000 in damages.
OFFICER GUILTY OF SIX ETHICS CODE VIOLATIONS
In a second victory, the police ethics committee said in its Nov. 18 decision that it upheld six of the 12 violations against Boutin.
Content testified that he only pulled out his cellphone to film after getting out of his Cadillac Escalade at the gas station because he noticed that Boutin had been following him briefly in his police cruiser, but Boutin alleged that the man had started filming him before he got out of the car, thereby violating the Highway Traffic Act, and arrested him for refusing to identify himself.
However, the committee didn’t buy the officer's version of events and painted most his testimony as not only uncredible but also “ridiculous” and “implausible.”
For example, the officer told the committee that Content was shoving the cellphone in his face while recording, but surveillance footage showed Content was holding it at chest level and was not “gesticulating.”
During that moment, the officer swats Content’s left hand that was holding the phone, knocking it to the ground, and pushes him into his car. Content at the time had mobility issues and used a cane.
‘RACE PLAYED A DEFINITE ROLE’
The man said he started to film the officer because he said he had been harassed by the police in the past and wanted to protect his rights.
The committee found there was no doubt that the intervention was racially motivated and characterized the officer’s behaviour as “overzealous” and “excessive.”
“The panel believes that Mr. Content's race played a definite role in Constable Boutin's decision to stop him,” the ruling stated.
“Indeed, while Constable Boutin may have had reasonable cause to stop Mr. Content, he had no reason to act as he did in slapping Mr. Content's hand and shoving him.”
Content said the ordeal has made him fearful of police and he won’t feel safe until there are dash cams in police cruisers because “cameras don’t lie.”
“There are nice officers, but the bad ones have to be rooted out and they have to be watched,” he said Friday.
The Laval police service wrote in a statement to CTV News that it would provide "its full and complete cooperation in the application of sanctions when determined."
"Integrity, respect and diversity are at the heart of our service's values and guide our daily actions and our ongoing commitment to the Laval community."
CITIZENS HAVE THE RIGHT TO FILM POLICE
Courts have ruled on several occasions that citizens have the right to film police officers in the course of their duties and the panel in Boutin’s case reaffirmed that.
“Officer Boutin was even less justified in destroying the video himself, especially since the video is evidence and its deletion infringes on Mr. Content's rights,” according to the ruling.
A 2016 police ethics committee ruling said filming officers has become easy with cellphone cameras and that nothing prevents a person from hitting record when they see a police officer.
“The police officer must now deal with this reality."
POLICE DISENGAGEMENT ‘CLEARLY PRESENT IN QUEBEC’: STUDY
It might explain why a new study published Tuesday found that more and more police officers in Quebec are disengaging with the public and avoiding certain situations.
Fear of being filmed was cited as one of the most common reasons for what is known as “de-policing,” according to the study by Camille Faubert, a researcher at Quebec’s police academy, the École nationale de police du Québec.
However, the study was limited since only 186 police officers across the province were surveyed and 21 agreed to be interviewed, including sergeants, constables, and captains.
Out of the 21 officers who were interviewed, eight said they have disengaged in certain situations, while 16 said they observed the behaviour in fellow officers.
One of the officers told researchers that he lamented the fact that police officers are so closely watched.
“We can have disciplinary consequences in discipline, and we can be charged criminally for doing our job,” the officer said.
“The fact that we have like 3 authorities that are there to give us a rap on the knuckles if there is something that is not perfect. So I think that this is also...this is one of the points that can make people afraid to do their work."
Content reacted to the report Friday, telling reporters that he believes police officers should focus more on acting appropriately and less on worrying about public scrutiny.
“As long as you treat somebody the way you're supposed to treat them, you shouldn't be worried about cameras,” he said.
“If you don't do nothing wrong, you don't have nothing to worry about.”
Fo Niemi, executive director of the Montreal-based Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, supported Content in his complaints to the oversight bodies related to his ordeal. He said he hopes that the lengthy process for Content isn’t a deterrent for other people to complain about police misconduct.
“The process is complicated, it's time consuming,” he said, “but people should not be afraid of all these obstacles and people really have to be determined and show perseverance.”