Montreal police unveil policy on street checks, ban stops based on discriminatory criteria
MONTREAL -- The Service de police de la ville de Montreal (SPVM) released its long-awaited policy on street checks on Wednesday, months after an independent report found evidence of systemic bias within the force.
The report, released in October 2019, showed that people from certain racialized groups were much more likely than others to be stopped by police for street checks – which are when officers approach a person and record their information, whether or not an offence has been committed.
Under the new policy, officers will have to follow a set of guidelines when it comes to street checks. They will need to inform citizens what motives led to the stop, and the SPVM says it plans to inform its officers as to what rights citizens have in the context of a street check.
Specifically, the policy aims to prohibit inquiries that are "unfounded, random, or based on discriminatory criterion."
Police stops must be based "on observable facts and without discriminatory motives." Concretely, it means officers must approach people "without regard to their real or perceived ethnocultural identity, religion, gender, identity, sexual orientation or socio-economic status."
The policy also states police cannot use the pretext of enforcing a law to stop someone when their real goal is to identify the person and obtain information.
Police will deploy a team of coaches to support officers and workshops will also be given based on the new policy, which is set to come into effect in the fall.
"It seems very simple, but is an important change," SPVM chief Sylvain Caron said on Wednesday. "There (are) a lot of biases, through our training; in the way we were raised, so there’s a lot of work to do."
After analyzing three years' worth of police data, the authors of the report found that Indigenous women were 11 times more likely to be questioned by police than white women, and Black and Indigenous people were between four and five times more likely to be stopped.
Caron said at the time he was alarmed by the figures but stressed that they could be explained by a lack of policy.
But according to Ensemble Montreal, the city's official opposition party, the new policy lacks accountability and transparency.
"The SPVM is the last police force among those in large Canadian cities to elaborate a street check policy," Ensemble Montreal leader Lionel Perez said in a statement. "It could have built on what’s been done elsewhere and innovated, but there’s nothing innovative in this policy."
The party says the policy should have included the obligation to notify a person of their rights during a street check, and a list of reprimands for officers who don't follow the new guidelines. It also hoped the force would update its complaints process for people who want to file a report on an officer.
With files from The Canadian Press.