Montrealers say long-awaited street check consultation was a letdown, 'like usual'

This week was a moment with years of buildup for many Montrealers: it was their sole formal opportunity to weigh in on police's new policy around street checks, after years of efforts to reduce racial profiling. 

But after the long wait, several people said it was the latest in a string of letdowns and they're losing patience with police.

“We already expected not to have any answers to our questions and not to be heard, like usual,” said Marie-Livia Beauge, a lawyer who works with the organization Hoodstock.

Public consultations got underway on Montreal's new street checks policy, released earlier this summer. several participants said the sessions were full of “vague information” and meaningless talk.

The consultations were held by Montreal’s public security commission and were meant to gather feedback on the policy.

Some critics, including Beauge, went in unhappy with the premise: why were public consultations held after the policy was adopted, she asked, rather than while it was being written?

The new policy falls short, failing to stop the kind of police checks that happen “for no reason,” she said.

“It just says that when police officers do this type of ‘interpellation’—that is, by the way, illegal—they have to fill a form. How do you know the police officer is going to write what is actually happening?”

The new police policy came in response to an independent report that found that Indigenous and Black people are four to five times as likely to be stopped by police in Montreal as a white person.

Under the new rules, police must inform citizens what led to the stop, and they cannot stop someone just for the purpose of identifying them.

Some of the rules, however, could actually lead to more racial profiling, said Fo Niemi, director of the nonprofit Centre for Research Action on Race Relations.

The guidelines say police can pull anyone over, or stop them, if they see them doing an “uncivil act.” That’s a broad concept, Niemi says.

“You can imagine what kind of abuse it can allow for police officers, especially in low-income neighborhoods of Montreal, to say that if you talk too loud in the street you get fine,” he said.

“This is a policy that’s supposed to be against racial profiling or at least against abusive street checks, particularly [for] pedestrians of colour,” he said.

“And at the same time, the policy opens the door for law enforcement officers to intercept and to collect information through a fine of—very likely—people of colour, and particularly young people of colour.”

Police defended the policy this week but also said it was a work in progress.

Under the policy, “we have more tools to work with police officers, and one of these tools is our disciplinary code,” said Vincent Richer of Montreal police.

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