Montreal business owner claims police keep invading her salon because she is Black
MONTREAL -- A Montreal woman is speaking out after she says police unlawfully searched her hair salon last week.
Stephanie Odia claims authorities have targetted her business at least once a month since she opened last November, simply because she is Black.
Thursday, Odia says she was finishing up with her last client of the day when police on bicycles showed up.
"They came in, they didn't say, 'hi,' and they start following my brother, who was taking out the trash," she tells CTV News, adding they asked if she was selling alcohol and if she had a terrace.
Odia states when she said, 'no,' the officers asked to see the back of the salon.
She says she complied, fearing for her brother's safety in light of the ongoing slayings of Black men by police.
"Just seeing police following him, not saying anything, I was just scared," she said. "I saw the other police trying to look for a reaction from my brother. I just wanted them to leave, so I complied with everything that they told me."
Odia shared surveillance footage from her store on Instagram; it has since been viewed over 30,000 times.
"Oftentimes, we think that these things don't happen here in Canada and Montreal, but it happens a lot," she argues.
In the video, one of the officers lingers, looking around, while her client patiently waits in the chair.
Odia alleges the cops then asked her for a piece of identification, but never explained what brought them into her salon in the first place.
"The only way individuals are supposed to identify themself, it's if police have probable cause that a crime is being committed or they are on the way to commit a crime," explains lawyer Kwadwo Yeboah, adding he, too, believes this is a case of racial profiling.
Yeboah is no stranger to alleged racial profiling, having filed his own complaint last February after he says he was handcuffed in front of his teenage daughter during what should have been a routine traffic stop.
Odia admits she often sees patrollers peering through her front window or calling the salon to inquire about her permits, adding the constant police presence isn't helping her small business thrive.
"We’re not bothering anyone. We are working, like everyone else. We serve customers, we pay taxes like everyone else. So, our rights should be respected like everyone else," she argued. "It’s sad, but we must speak about it and denounce it as well."
CTV News reached out to Montreal police, who would only say that the officers noticed something that could have been an infraction related to the selling of alcohol.
The force would not go into further detail about what, where or who noticed the alleged violation. However, police spokesperson Julien Lévesque confirmed that the file has been transferred to an investigator.
"[There's an] SAQ just beside her store that sells alcohol and these bottles could have come from them putting them in the garbage, but they saw her Black brother putting out garbage and they just followed him into the barbershop," Yeboah states.
Odia says she plans to file a complaint with the police ethics commissioner, as well as the Human Rights Commission in the coming days.
"I can’t say it won’t keep happening, but today we are in a movement. We speak a lot about Black Lives Matter, but that can’t be limited to a black square on social media," she said. "It’s also really about speaking up about these situations of injustice, like what has happened here. Maybe this can give hope to other business owners, that we have the right to speak out and to stand up for our rights as well."