Police officers profiled black driver

Montreal police racially profiled black man driving Mercedes, ethics committee rules

Two Montreal police officers have been found guilty by the police ethics committee of illegally arresting Kenrick McRae and suppressing evidence.FRÉDÉRIC TOMESCO Updated: December 23, 2019

Kenrick McRae displays glasses and a watch that contain recording devices, which he wears while driving his car. The Montreal police ethics committee found two officers guilty of misconduct in a 2017 stop-and-arrest incident involving McRae. JOHN MAHONEY / MONTREAL GAZETTE

Two Montreal police officers were found guilty by the police ethics committee of illegally arresting a black man driving a Mercedes and suppressing evidence.

In a 31-page decision signed by Judge Louise Rivard and dated Dec. 18, the committee ruled that officers Christian Benoit and Philippe Bernard-Thomassin engaged in several illegal acts, including racial profiling, during the March 2017 arrest of Guyana native Kenrick McRae. The ruling detailed 16 violations of the police ethics code.

“As a black man driving a Mercedes-Benz in Montreal, I’ve been stopped and detained so many times for no justifiable reason,” McRae said Monday morning at a downtown press conference. “This is the first time the law has been on my side. Thank God that I equipped myself with digital evidence that exposed the racism, the racial profiling, the oppressive system of the Montreal police.”

The Montreal police department won’t be commenting on the ethics committee’s decision, a spokesperson for the department said Monday via email.

Sanctions will probably be handed down by mid-2020, said Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, a Montreal civil-rights organization that backed McRae’s case. He predicted the penalties will be “significant, involving many days of suspensions,” and that the officers will appeal them before the Court of Quebec, which could delay the conclusion of the matter by at least a year.

In the meantime, a decision on the case from the Quebec Human Rights Commission is expected next year, said Niemi. If McRae wins, he would be entitled to financial compensation.

Both officers illegally detained, arrested and handcuffed McRae, the committee ruled. It also challenged their “unlikely testimony,” and found that they illegally searched and erased McRae’s camera, in addition to filing a false report. One officer was also found to have intimidated McRae.

“The judge took judicial notice of the fact that when police officers cannot come up with plausible, reasonable and believable explanations as to why a black man is being stopped, it’s reasonable to believe that it is because he’s black,” former Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer Alain Babineau, an adviser to the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said at the press conference. “We’ve got to be pleased with that.”

Kenrick McRae says he now carries five recording devices at all times to protect himself: two bodycams, a handheld camera, a watch and a pair of camera glasses. JOHN MAHONEY / MONTREAL GAZETTE

McRae was a police officer in Guyana. At about 10:30 on the evening of March 3, 2017, he was parked in a car — waiting as a friend made an ATM transaction on Westminster Ave. in Montreal West — when police saw him, made a U-turn and pulled him over.

After initially being told that he had been stopped to verify if he was the owner of the car, McRae was informed that his licence plate lights were not working. He got out of the car and used his camcorder to prove that the lights in question were working.

When McRae told the officers he was planning to file a complaint, he was asked to hand over his camcorder. He was then handcuffed and placed under arrest for disturbing the peace — a scene that his friend filmed with her phone.

While sitting in the back of the police cruiser, he watched as the two officers, who had since been joined by reinforcements, examined his camcorder and erased the recordings. McRae says he tried to talk to one of the supervisors about the incident, but the man refused to listen to him.

McRae was released around 11:05 that night after the officers told him they had not found anything to charge him with. He was given his camcorder back and told to leave. He called 911 from home to file a report.

As a result of the incident, McRae says, he now carries five recording devices at all times to protect himself: two bodycams, a handheld camera, a watch and a pair of camera glasses.

“I am encouraging all black men, especially those that drive and have a driver’s licence, to file complaints and make videos so that they can be on the safe side when dealing with the Montreal police,” McRae said.

Asked whether the incidents have made him reconsider his decision to live in Montreal, he said: “I just feel like I’m a second-class citizen.”

McRae has three other complaints outstanding against the SPVM — two before the provincial human rights commission, and one before the police ethics commissioner. These complaints refer to separate incidents that occurred over the last two years, Niemi said.

“The system is slow,” Niemi said. “It will be costly for everyone, including taxpayers, the police officers and the police union, but it is a necessity for everyone to file a complaint whenever they feel they have been mistreated by police, especially in a case of driving while black. Hopefully Mr. McRae’s decision shows that it’s worth the wait.”

Source: Montreal Gazette

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