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In Montreal, Racial Situations At Play, Similar To Those In The USA

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In Montreal, Racial Situations At Play, Similar To Those In The USA

Blacks in Montreal have been fighting a pandemic that predates COVID-19: racism by the police.

By Yvonne Sam
Contributing Columnist

Yvonne Sam -- new“Racism is traumatic for people of color. Everything that you have to carry around anyway, as a Black person, to add onto it, having to watch people in your community, who’ve done nothing, killed at the hands of people in power, who will probably suffer few, if any, consequences,” opined Monnica Williams, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Ottawa, in Canada, who studies African American mental health. www.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/magazine/racisms-psychological-toll.html.

Our screens and feeds are filled with feeds and images of Black Americans dying, or being brutalized. Scores of killings, answered with acquittals. Now, as a viral pandemic rages, Blacks in communities, across the country, disproportionally devastated by COVID-19, are now forced to bear witness to more deaths, at the hands of racist policemen.

“I can only describe the continued viewing of racial violence, torture, murder and disregard for the humanity of Black bodies, as repetitive trauma,” commented Danielle Jackson, a psychiatry resident and board member of the American Psychiatric Association’s Caucus of Black Psychiatrists. www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/28/george-floyd-ahmaud-arbery-covid-emotional-toll-hits-black-families/5270216002/ .

Recently, our full attention was paid to the tragic, but totally unavoidable, circumstances, surrounding the death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis. A video, circulated on social media, last week, shows police officer, Derek Chauvin, driving his knee into Floyd’s neck, as he, repeatedly, hoarsely cries, “I can’t breathe.”

Sadly, this is not the first time that those words have reverberated through America’s conscience, which, to all appearances, is in need of urgent attention.

Simultaneously, Montrealers need not be lulled into a false sense of complacency, in believing that it is only America that bears the current blame and shame. In essence and actuality, representatives of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (Montreal Police Service) (SPVM) are playing the same game, and behaving the same way, on any given day.

The attack is always on Blacks, and as such, we cannot wait until it is too late. In any of the encounters with the Montreal Police, the results could have been the same, as that of Rodney King, Tamir Rice, Philandro Castile, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and, lately, George Floyd, to name a minimal few.

Furthermore, many of the complaints, brought before the Police Ethics Commission, were either rejected, or the culpable officers received negligible punishment. It is blatantly obvious that neither the City of Montreal, nor the police service, is taking the matter seriously. The message is as pellucid as can be: Blacks in Montreal be aware — demand reform now! — Do not wait to suffer a similar fate, like so many others in the United States. Racism is the untreated pandemic.

It is time for the community to take a seriously-hard look at the uncomfortable truths. It is high time to face the deep, open wound we have in this nation — by holding the police to a “higher standard”, and “holding bad cops” both accountable and answerable.

Police officers are only as good as the training their department provides them, and as good as the culture their department creates for them. Both of which originate, and emerge, from the heart, mind, conscience and humanity of law enforcement leaders and the city and provincial or federal agencies that hire them. Reform can only go so far and, until the culture is changed, reform is limited.

According to Jacques Fremont, ex-President of the Quebec Human Rights Commission, “The challenge is a change of culture, basically, within the police forces and within Quebec society, in general. So we’re fighting against prejudice, we’re fighting against well-established ways of doing things.” globalnews.ca/news/922013/racial-profiling-complaints-against-montreal-police-up-over-50-per-cent/

Because policies can change, training can also change, but until hearts and minds are changed, culture does not change. Montreal has a deep and complicated history, when it comes to Blacks and law enforcement. pridenews.ca/2017/04/19/peace-possible-blacks-police-montreal/

Additionally, the SPVM has a historical resistance to effect policy reform, in addition to dealing with conduct issues, within its ranks. In the 1960s, the Communauté urbaine de Montréal (SPCUM) adopted its mission statement: “Ensemble pour mieux servir” (Together to serve you better), which morphed, 20 years later, through the concept of “Neighbourhood Policing”, as a new policing approach.

This model sought to strengthen community ties, through an approach, based on “solving problems, building partnerships and on a greater openness toward community groups”.

Being Black in Canada is hard. The garment of blackness that we wear, is heavy and tedious — a constant reminder that Blacks (males especially) need to be circumspect of their very existence in everyday spaces and places, no matter where they are. To be Black in Canada, is not only to be targeted for questioning or arrest, it is also to be “proximate to death”.

According to a released 2018 report, by profiling all Black youths in Black areas, under the pretext of wanting to curb gang activities; and targeting the same youth, in predominantly-White spaces, for being “out of place”, proved that the SPVM “Neighbourhood Policing” strategy has been a dismal failure. ocpm.qc.ca/sites/ocpm.qc.ca/files/pdf/P100/8-20_alain_babineau.pdf

The Black community is cognizant of the following truisms, and need no reminders that within the police force, there are good cops, and one thing that good cops hate, are bad cops. However, SPVM can no longer condone “a few bad apples”, or just excuse them as bad apples, when the “system” of policing – and some departments — are dysfunctional. thelinknewspaper.ca/article/the-spvm-have-a-police-brutality-problem

Perhaps there is a need to stop saying there are good cops, until there is more evidence. In Montréal, like elsewhere, the destruction of Black bodies and the ending of Black lives, occurs, all too frequently, without consequences for those, who are believed, by most, to be protecting society.

Here at home, in our own backyard, are samples of incidents that influence the experience of being Black in Montreal — how dangerous it is to drive, own a special make of car, be a passenger in a car etc. These incidents underscore that no space is safe, and the Black presence is a threat.

In 2018, a black Montreal couple, Daniel Louis and Gertrude Dubois, were pepper-sprayed in their car, by police, after being stopped for excessive honking, during Grand Prix festivities.

Daniel says what started out as an amicable chat with the police officer, about honking his horn, quickly escalated and, without warning, he was doused with pepper-spray. Dubois, sitting next to him, was also hit by the spray.

The Canadian Grand Prix attracts large crowds to the city centre, with plenty of drivers revving their engines and honking their horns, but Louis believes he was targeted, because of his race.

In addition to two noise violation tickets, he was charged, criminally, with obstruction and resisting arrest. The Crown agreed to withdraw the criminal charges, after he paid an $888 fine for his honking.


March 2017, while waiting for his girlfriend to withdraw money from a bank, on Westminster Avenue in Montreal West, a police car stopped, parallel to the car, driven by Kenrick Mc Rae, on the other side of the road. The squad car then made a U-turn and stopped directly behind Mc Rae’s vehicle.

An officer asked for his licence and registration, and after checking his papers, the officer told him the lights above his licence plate were not working. Kenrick got out of the car, with a video camera, to record that the lights were, in fact, fully functional.

At that point, one officer asked him to hand over the recorder and, when McRae asked why, he was arrested for what the officer called “disturbing the peace”. He was pushed up against the back of his car, handcuffed and then placed in the back of the police car, while his camera was seized and videos erased. www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/kenrick-mcrae-quebec-police-

On August 21, 2018, Nicholas Gibbs was shot and killed by the Montreal police. In a video, filmed by a citizen, from the window of a building close to the event, the police are seen shooting five times in the direction of the young man, the last two bullets being fired, as he turns his back to them. www.lapresse.ca/actualites/justice-et-faits-divers/201908/17/01-5237730-une-manif-salue-la-memoire-de-nicholas-gibbs-abattu-par-des-policiers-en-2018.p

Here are links to further situations highlighting negative encounters, between Blacks and Montreal Police.




Conclusively, despite Canada’s abolition of slavery, over two centuries ago, its legacy, of exerting influence over Black bodies, was reconsolidated, most strongly, in the criminal justice system, with law enforcement playing an increasingly significant role, today, in the managing of the Black male population.

Being Black in Canada is hard. The garment of blackness that we wear, is heavy and tedious — a constant reminder that Blacks (males especially) need to be circumspect of their very existence in everyday spaces and places, no matter where they are. To be Black in Canada, is not only to be targeted for questioning or arrest, it is also to be “proximate to death”.

The SPVM is in desperate need of policing reform, as racist acts are becoming the new norm. No one wants to talk about racism in stark terms, as it is much too painful.

We cannot breathe, because police reform was promised, and pledged by leaders, only to become unfulfilled. However, if we do not talk about it, we become passive participants in an immoral culture.

The judicial system that is supposed to be impartial, fails us. The police service that is supposed to protect and serve us, now kill, as if that is what we deserve. Who will help us?

Montreal should turn as America burns. We must demand reform now! No longer can we wait, the lives of Black Montrealers are at stake. Take the lead, so Blacks can breathe.

Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is the Public Relations Officer of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.

(The views, expressed in the above commentary, are, exclusively, those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of the management or owner of Pride News Online.)

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