Montreal police introduce policy barring officers from stopping people based on race

Montreal police unveiled a street check policy Wednesday aimed at ensuring officers stop people based only on observable facts and not on discriminatory motives, such as a person's race, gender or religion.

Calling it an "important change to the culture," police Chief Sylvain Caron said the policy is the first of its kind in Quebec and a way for officers to build better relations with the communities they serve.

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"We are not going to stop street checks," Caron told reporters, referring to the practice that involves police stopping a person and recording their information regardless of whether an offence has been committed.

"But we are very conscious that people's rights are important."

Montreal's police service pledged to introduce a street check policy following a 2019 report by independent researchers indicating people from certain groups were much more likely than others to be stopped by police.

It found that Black and Indigenous Montrealers were between four and five times more likely to be questioned than their white counterparts, with Indigenous women 11 times more likely to be subjected to stops. Those of Arab descent were twice as likely to be stopped by police.

The policy says police stops must be based "on observable facts and without discriminatory motives." Concretely, it means officers must approach people "without regard to their real or perceived ethnocultural identity, religion, gender, identity, sexual orientation or socio-economic status."

It also states police cannot use the pretext of enforcing a law to stop someone when their real goal is to identify the person and obtain information.

Montreal police officers will attend workshops and receive coaching on how to apply the policy before it comes into effect this fall.

Caron admitted, however, that the new policy doesn't come with any sanctions for officers who fail to apply it. The police chief said he was giving himself "another few months" to create a framework for disciplining officers who violate the rules.

Police officers will be required to collect detailed data, including the person's ethnocultural identity, after they stop and question someone. However, the report will only be required if the information gathered from the stop is considered to be of interest to the police force.

Officers must also inform a person why they have been subjected to a street check.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 8, 2020.

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