MONTREAL -- A group of young Black men are accusing Repentigny police of racism profiling, a problem that has been going on for years, according to members of the community.

The group said they were playing basketball in a public court on May 22 when four police cars, summoned by a neighbour's complaint, encircled the park.

“They came to tell us 'You can't play here,'” said 20-year-old Nathan Dery.

While half the group left, the others remained to talk to the police.

“They gave us tickets and we took them,” said Philippe Jonathan Guerre.

May 22 was the first day Quebec allowed gatherings of up to 10 people outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Members of the group said they told officers they thought that meant they could play on the court.

They said they accepted their fines and walked away but, a few minutes later, they saw a group of young white people on the same court who were let go with a warning.

“I'm asking myself why they didn't give them a ticket and just to us,” said Guerre.

The group said they plan to file a complaint with the Police Ethics Commission and Quebec's Human Rights Tribunal.

A spokesperson for the police department said the decision to ticket the young men had nothing to do with skin colour but that the group had been previously caught playing basketball together during the confinement. The spokesperson said during those incidents, the young men were let go with a warning.

Alain Babineau, an advisor to the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations said giving a $1,500 fine to people who had never been in real legal trouble was excessive.

“We're talking about police discretion here. We're talking about double standards,” he said.

Luigi Labarriere, a public speaker and community leader, said negative interactions with police are something Black youth have come to accept, shaping their view of the world and themselves.

“The self-esteem of those kids is also affected,” he said. “Imagine when they come and say 'You're not supposed to be here.' They think 'Maybe he's right, I'm not supposed to be here.'”

Babineau said contentious relations between the police and Black community have been “an ongoing saga for 10 years.”

Repentigny police said they've been working on improving their relationship with the Black community for the past two years.