Repentigny Black community denounce police action plan to tackle racial profiling
Published Sunday, September 26, 2021 2:57PM EDT Last Updated Monday, September 27, 2021 3:46PM EDT
MONTREAL -- Black community leaders in a town just north of Montreal slammed their local police force's plan to tackle racial profiling on Sunday, saying the strategy was developed without sufficient input from the Black community and will take too long to implement.
The critiques came from community groups representing Black residents of Repentigny, Que., who held a news conference to denounce the five-year action plan days after it was first released.
Advocates said the plan, developed by the Service de Police de la Ville de Repentigny in response to a report that revealed Black residents are nearly three times more likely to face arrest than other local residents, misrepresents their views and doesn't go far enough to curb systemic racism.
"We don't recognize ourselves in the plan, they don't talk about us, they talk about 'social groups,"' said Pierre Yvenert, a local Black resident and president of one of the community groups taking part in Sunday's news conference. "It feels like we don't exist."
Repentigny police had faced a raft of human rights complaints and allegations of racial profiling over the years, prompting the force to commission a report on its interactions with Black residents.
A trio of researchers from two Montreal-area universities, Victor Armony, Mariam Hassaoui and Massimiliano Mulone, examined Repentigny police interventions from 2016 to 2019. They found that while Black residents comprised just seven per cent of Repentigny's population, they accounted for 17 per cent of all official interactions with local officers.
Community tensions were further exacerbated last month following the death of Black resident Jean-Rene Junior Olivier.
The 37-year-old was shot multiple times while standing outside his family home on Aug. 1. His death is currently under investigation by the bureau des Enquetes Independentes, the provincial police watchdog.
The Repentigny police force developed its action plan in response to both the report and Olivier's death, giving itself five years to implement changes.
"Our action plan aims to create organizational change based on equity, diversity and inclusion principles and goes beyond tackling racial profiling," Repentigny police director Helen Dion said in a statement issued when the strategy was unveiled on Sept. 16. "It was developed with the realities and experiences of our officers in mind as well as the concerns and realities of organizations on our territory."
The force said the plan was based on conversations with staff, independent research and discussions with the community.
Police officers who took part in the report, however, denied the existence of racism among force members. Several advocates, meanwhile, contended police did not consult with community members extensively enough or accurately incorporate their concerns when crafting the plan. Olivier's mother is among those critics.
Marie-Mireille Bence said the lack of consultation is a further indication of racism and lack of transparency within the ranks.
"Why is this plan to action not calling systemic racism by its name," she asked while addressing reporters. "How can we trust when there's no transparency?"
Bence said her 911 call seeking help transporting her son to hospital triggered the police interaction that ultimately resulted in his death.
She said she's been fruitlessly seeking answers ever since.
"They are never going to recognize racism exists among them," she told The Canadian Press. "With their action plan, it's the same thing. Why did they not include us? They did it alone. It's clear like water. Since Aug. 1, I experienced a lack of transparency and sometimes, I don't even have words."
Pierre Richard Thomas, president of Lakay Media, an organization that promotes diversity and inclusion, voiced similar skepticism at Sunday's news conference.
"We ask the city to stop beating around the bush," he said. "We ask that the Black community of Repentigny be included in the search for solutions to resolve the problem."
Yvenert also expressed concern about the action plan's timeframe, saying five years represents too long a wait for meaningful change.
"Racial profiling is destroying lives in this city," he said. "We can't wait for 2026 for solutions."
Bence said she intends to file a human rights complaint against the Repentigny force with help from Montreal-based civil rights group Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations.
Executive Director Fo Niemi said local police ought to have consulted families in Bence's circumstances for their perspectives on systemic racism, noting there are several factors at play that often go unexamined.
"You have to think about the funeral cost, the legal papers, the hospital bills," Niemi said. "Given the magnitude of the incident, the city could have asked key community leaders to come to a meeting to talk about how this happened, what we should do to address community concerns. We didn't have any of those. This is why people are reacting to this plan."
-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2021.