Lawsuit coming to examine Montreal police racial discrimination

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Non-white Montrealers who say they were unjustly stopped, arrested or detained by Montreal Police will have their day in court after a judge authorized a class action lawsuit on their behalf.

The Black Coalition of Quebec filed the suit on behalf of non-Caucasian citizens saying they were profiled negatively by police between 2017 and 2019, and Justice Andre Prevost ruled on Aug. 7 that the claimants met the criteria to proceed.

Lead plaintiff Alexandre Lamontagne, a man of Haitian origin, claims that in Aug. 2017 he was standing on the street checking his cell phone when he was questioned by two police officers. He was arrested and charged with obstructing police work and assault with the intention of resisting arrest, but the charges were later dropped.

"They jumped on me and they put me on the ground, and they handcuffed me," said Lamontagne.

The charges for resisting arrest were eventually dropped for lack of evidence.

The arrest, however, led to a lawsuit is open to anyone who, "following a proactive intervention from a police officer of the city of Montreal was stopped, arrested and/or detained without justification and experienced racial profiling, a violation of their rights as a citizen and/or any other violation of the rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and/or the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms," according to Provost's ruling.

Dan Phillip is the president of the Black Coalition and said it has been difficult to get justice for his community's cause, and called the judge's decision 'a new beginning.'

"The judge's decision is fundamental to our community and society as a whole," said Phillip. "We have been going to the courts time and time again, and people were beginning to lose faith in the justice system. That action will reveal people's faith in the justice system."

Phillip said the city, police and police union are against the average citizen, and said some profiled citizens are forced to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees, and they end up abandoning their cases.

"The city has a responsibility, but the city does not accept its responsibility," he said. "It tries to go to bed with the Fraternite des policiers just to prevent people from getting their due rights, and that has been very difficult for us."

Phillip is calling on those who suffered physical harm between Aug. 14, 2017 and Jan. 11, 2019 to contact the coalition to add their names to the suit. Those not physically harmed can apply if the incident happened between July 11, 2018 and the closing period.

"The system itself must change," said Phillip.