MONTREAL -- If the Montreal police force won't recognize racism and profiling within its ranks, then the problem of unfounded street checks won't be solved, citizens told the city's public security committee in impassioned testimony Friday.

Racist officers within the department must be identified and punished, and the police chief must immediately give orders to lower-level cops to stop routine street checks, the committee was told.

Balarama Holness, a McGill University law student, said police need to accept that racism exists within the force.

"Everyone has internal, subconscious biases," Holness said in an interview outside the council meeting room. "When you intersect, in your mind, criminality with skin colour or social position, you are racist."

"The Montreal police can no longer be shy about being racist," he said, adding "it's impossible to be intercepting people who are of different colours than (the majority) with the rate that we seeing" without having racial prejudice.

The emotional pleas to police and city officials followed the recent release of a report delivered by university researchers that reveals black, Arab and Indigenous people are stopped by police significantly more often than white people in Montreal.

Black and Indigenous Montrealers are between four and five times more likely to be subjected to street checks than the rest of the population, the report revealed, while people of Arab descent are twice as likely to be stopped.

Researchers wrote that while the situation can't conclusively be described as racial profiling, "systemic bias" linked to race is present in police interventions.

Montreal police deputy director Marc Charbonneau told the committee he accepted the report with "humility" and his force will come up with a policy governing how officers make street checks by March 2020.

But he refused to talk of "racial profiling" or racism within the force.

"We accept the results of the report," he said. "But we need to know more."

Police need more reports and research to fully understand why minorities are disproportionately stopped by officers, Charbonneau said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2019.