Montreal police racially profiled Black man who was arrested while buying milk, ethics commissioner says
MONTREAL -- A Montreal man who was pinned to the ground at gunpoint and handcuffed by two police officers while he was trying to buy milk at a dépanneur was racially profiled, the police ethics commissioner has ruled.
It’s the second oversight body to rule that Errol Burke, a Black man, was targeted in a case of mistaken identity due to the colour of his skin in the violent arrest on Feb. 18, 2017.
The incident happened at the Bon Soleil convenience store on Décarie Boulvard in the Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce neighbourhood.
In July 2020, the Human Rights Commission ruled that Burke was racially profiled and ordered the police service to pay him $45,000 in a non-binding decision.
Burke also filed a complaint with Quebec’s police ethics commissioner, which initially rejected it before that decision was overturned on appeal.
In a decision released last week, the watchdog found two officers — Const. Pierre Auger and Const. Jean-Philippe Théorêt — guilty of multiple violations of the code of ethics for officers, including using excessive force, committing acts based on race or colour, and unlawful arrest.
“The behaviour of the police officers throughout the intervention can only be rationally explained by the prejudices they held, consciously or not, towards Mr. Burke because of his race or colour,” wrote Justice Benoit McMahon in his decision.
The officers were responding to a report of a stabbing and were on the hunt for a suspect in the area.
The suspect was described as an 18-year-old man, but Burke was 54 at the time and wore markedly different clothing than the person the officers were looking for. Burke was released after police realized they had the wrong guy.
In his defence, Const. Auger said a combination of factors caused him to only pick up certain descriptions of the suspect, including the speed of the police cruiser, the stress and urgency of the situation, and the noise of the sirens.
But the commissioner ruled the officers’ testimony was not credible. At times, their statements were also contradictory to what was captured on surveillance video and their previous statements about what had transpired, according to the ruling.
The ethics commissioner ruled that Const. Théorêt’s justification for intervening with Burke at the store “does not hold up” and that he “intervened with the first Black man he saw on the sidewalk.”
“Officer Théorêt’s failure, whether intentional or not, to consider the factors of available to him that excluded Mr. Burke is an important indicator of racial profiling in this case,” wrote Justice McMahon.
“Discriminatory behaviour is often multifactorial and unconscious, and proof of intent to discriminate is not required."
In an email to CTV News, the police union, Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal, said it does not comment on police ethics decisions.
The Montreal police service said it is aware of the decision but declined to comment.