Student said she felt dismissed and minimized when reporting her harasser to the Montreal police
A Concordia University student has filed two ethics complaints against five Montreal police officers over the dismissive treatment she endured while reporting a harassment complaint.
The 30-year-old PhD student Anna* told The Concordian she felt continuously dismissed and disparaged by the SPVM officers.
Over the course of a month, Anna said she made several attempts to report a man who had been stalking and harassing her on the downtown campus.
The Center for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR) will be assisting Anna with the two complaints filed with the Quebec Police Ethics Commission. According to a statement on the issue released by CRARR, Anna was harassed in October and November of 2019.
“He followed me to coffee shops, and my workplace at Concordia, and would seemingly know my schedule,” said Anna.
She decided to file a formal criminal complaint to police at Station 20 near the downtown campus after the two months of harassment escalated to a physical altercation with the man.
She explained her situation at the station but was told that the officer who would listen to her complaint was busy with an Amazon package theft, and that she had to come back later.
“I had a feeling that there was no sense of triage, there was no sense of the gravity of my situation being taken seriously,” said Anna.
After she returned to the station, this time escorted by a Concordia security guard later that evening, Anna said she had to fill out a document about her complaint behind a glass window sitting in a waiting room chair.
She said this process took hours of back and forth with the officers, who asked her to describe details such as what her harasser was wearing, what time of day the incidents occurred, and what was said.
When she described to the supervising officer what the man looked like, Anna said the officer responded, “Sounds like a good looking man, why don’t you go on a date with him?”
“I was really shocked at this callous and offensive conduct,” said Anna.
After filing her complaint, she told an officer that she was scared, and asked to be escorted home. The officer dismissed Anna’s request, asking her if the attacker was at her home “right now,” and if she had any friends or family that could help her instead.
“Instead of supporting vulnerable women, who already self-identify as ‘I’m in trouble, I’m vulnerable’ there’s a sense of ‘we can’t help you, go find some friends, why don’t you call your family.’”
Anna is not originally from Montreal, and said she didn’t have a support system she could rely on at the time.
A few days later, Anna said she was terrified to be walking home from class at night, only to find the door to her apartment already open. She called 911, but the police officers took over an hour to arrive. The officers then gave Anna a document for her to fill out her complaint report, again.
The officers told Anna she would have to follow up with her complaint at the police station near the downtown campus, where it was initially filed.
After they left, Anna said she felt she needed to know more about her harasser. She decided to research about him online after obtaining information on her harasser from a police document. That’s when Anna found out he had a history of sexual assault.
“It hit me at that moment, that the police had a record of him and yet still did nothing to protect me, or even inform me of his record.”
Afraid for her safety, Anna went to the police station and waited for hours at the detention centre for a detective to look at her case.
“I was too afraid to go home,” she said.
On several occasions, Anna said when she tried to communicate in English about her case with the SPVM, officers were reluctant or outright dismissive of her case.
Anna described trying to follow up on nine separate occasions, and officers would hang up on her, or walk away from her at the station. On one occasion, she said she called and spoke to a supervising officer about her case only to have him say “tabarnak” and hang up on her.
“Being minimized, being laughed at, and not being taken seriously, and to have to chase the police down for my own safety, all of these are barriers to access to justice for women like me.”
Executive Director of the CRARR Fo Niemi, who is assisting Anna with her case, says this is the first time he has seen a case like this.
“We haven’t seen something so blatantly egregious like this, especially in terms of the very offensive comments that she got at the police station, and the fact that she had to run after police officers and the police department and after [reaching out] several times in order to get at least somebody to call back,” said Niemi.
According to Niemi, Anna’s two police ethics complaints involve incidents which occurred at the SPVM police station, and the incident in which the officers came to her apartment after it was broken into.
What concerns Niemi is not only the treatment Anna endured, but whether this is a systemic issue.
“If accessing a police department or police services involves this kind of reaction and conduct, you can imagine how many women may not even go to the police for fear of not being taken seriously and not being believed.”
SPVM spokesperson Jean-Pierre Brabant says the SPVM could not comment on the ongoing investigation.
*to protect the subject’s identity, we are using a pseudonym.
Graphic by @the.beta.lab