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Montreal police commander breaks ranks to call out racism and racial profiling
MONTREAL -- The highest-ranking commander in the Montreal police force has broken ranks to call out his own, saying racism and racial profiling exist on the police force.
Cmdr. Patrice Vilceus, a long-time member of the force, said the Montreal police force (SPVM) must take action against it.
Vilceus sent an internal memo on Wednesday to more than 100 high-ranking colleagues in police management.
"Our organization must intensify its fight against racism that still exists within our walls and during some of our interventions," he wrote, highlighting the killing of George Floyd in the United States as more than just a bad apple problem in police forces across North America.
Vilceus said in the memo he wonders if his own force, the SPVM, can bring about change and its values can evolve in order to take into account injustices and inequalities that persist.
"Will the organization come around and consider injustices and inequalities that persist in the community, and who knows, become an example to follow?" he wrote.
The memo comes after not only the widespread Black Lives Matter protests, including in Montreal, but also after a report released last fall that studied police street checks and information stops by Montreal police between 2014 and 2017. The report showed Black and Indigenous people were four times more likely to be the subject of those checks than white people. People of Arab origin were also twice as likely to be stopped.
Last fall Sylvain Caron, Montreal’s police chief, said perhaps there was a systemic or organizational bias within the force, but he refused to acknowledge whether the report confirmed racial or social profiling by his officers.
Some of the top brass reacted to his internal memo.
“Maybe the means were not the most appropriate but nevertheless, the SPVM received this, I would say as -- okay, it’s something, there is concern over here. Why not use this as something positive. I would say, let’s use this to contribute and enrich the ongoing debate regarding and surrounding the street check policy,” said Insp. Andre Durocher.
Shaina Thornhill, vice-chair of the West Island Black Community Association, applauded Vilceus’s decision to speak up.
“Honestly, I think it's time for directors, not just of the police, of every enforcement agency, Premier Legault, everybody at high places of power, to first accept that this is a reality and how we can start remedying it,” she said.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante is calling for a new street check policy for Montreal police by the fall.
Vilceus was in charge of Eclipse anti-gang squad investigating street gangs and was suspended in May 2017 after a USB key containing information for police informants linked to the Hells Angels was stolen from his police cruiser while he was attending a Christmas party.
Durocher said Vilceus would not face any disciplinary action for his missive to the top brass, and said they welcome it, given the context.
Vilceus has declined all requests for an interview. Durocher said the commander is free to speak to the media if he so decides.
“I spoke with him this morning,” he said. “He has declined every single interview but the SPVM has not barred him from speaking in the media.”