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Equality for Montreal’s black community exists only on paper

by admin February 2, 2010

A black Concordia University student dropped his complaint with the Police Ethics Commissioner after 18 months, because absolutely no progress has been made, the student announced Jan. 25.

“He has spent thousands of dollars defending himself, and has undergone a lot of psychological drama,” said Fo Niemi, executive director of Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, a group that helped file the complaint and represented the student during a criminal trial. “Since the complaint was filed in July 2008, it hasn’t moved at all. He was tired, he has no faith in the process, and he felt it wasn’t worth it.”
In the meantime, the student had already gone through a trial, and was dismissed of both criminal and penal charges.

The complaint was issued after police charged the 25-year-old student, “R.C.,” in January 2008 for obstruction of justice.
The student’s full name will not be used because of a pending complaint he has against the city and two police officers.

After a party one night, R.C. drove home to Montreal North and parked his car near his house. While walking from the car, two female officers stopped the Concordia student and asked for I.D. After producing a driver’s license and asking 8212; for the second time 8212; why he was being stopped, the officers told him he was under arrest for obstruction of justice, according to R.C.
Words R.C. said he heard police use while dealing with him led him to believe he was a victim of “walking while black,” the student said.
Because police ethics complaints require a conciliation at an early stage, R.C. said he expected to have a date set within 60 days of filing the complaint. The process was complicated by the fact that one of officers who arrested R.C. left on maternity leave soon after laying the charges. When she came back, her partner went on sick leave, Niemi said.

For Niemi and R.C., the treatment of this case by the Montreal police is an example of yet another obstacle to victims of racial profiling.
More than 50 years after the start of the Civil Rights Movement, black people continue to be discriminated against.
“On paper, yes, everybody has the same rights,” Niemi said. “In practice, it’s far from equal. There has been a significant amount of progress, but it’s not enough.”
It is for this reason that Black History Month, which runs through February, remains relevant, Niemi said.
“Black people in Montreal do not have equal rights,” he said. “We have come very far, but we can’t forget to look at the struggles and battles that have been fought over the past 50 years.”

There are about 150,000 people in Montreal’s black community, accounting for about seven per cent of the population of the city. Yet over 29 per cent of Montrealers interrogated by police are black; 80 per cent of cases seen at the youth tribunal are against black youths.
“There is still a long, hard hill to climb. Blacks in Montreal really have very little opportunity.”
So long as members of the black community are discriminated against, rates of poverty and unemployment will remain high. “It’s a cycle,” Niemi said. “They can’t get jobs, which creates dire economic needs. So they look for other ways to survive. Then police catch them, and the cycle continues.”

Part of the reason current inequalities are overlooked is because a few exceptions tend to be interpreted as the rule, Niemi said. United States President Barack Obama, the country’s first black president, and Haitian-born Michaëlle Jean, Canada’s Governor General, are often used as examples to promote the concept that equal rights exist.
Though Obama and Jean are significant role models, black youth in Montreal may need to have more, Niemi said.
Currently, there are four black judges out of almost 400 in the province; one black person sits on Montreal city council, and another black politician sits in the National Assembly; there is no black representation in the Quebec Caucus, and there is one black MP out of the 75 who represent the province in Parliament.

Black representation in Quebec:

3 judges out of 400 in Quebec

1 member of city council

3 MNA in the National Assembly

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