Montreal, February 16, 2011. “Stay calm. Answer police questions simply and succinctly. And if you feel you’ve received a ticket unjustly, don’t argue when you’re getting the ticket, accept it and contest it later. And if you feel you’ve been a victim of police racial profiling, tell me.” That was the advice given by Eric La Penna, of the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, Commander of Police Station 7 in Saint-Laurent when he participated in a panel on racial profiling during Black History Month activities at Vanier College, held on Wednesday, February 16, 2011.
Some thirty people attended the event where three Black students related their experiences and asked for directives on how to act. “I’ve had both good and bad experiences,” related Social Science student Jeffrey Doret. “I was on my bike at night, coming back from the grocery store when the police stopped me and asked for identification. Eventually two other police cars showed up with lights blazing. It was very intimidating. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but even so I was nervous. Finally the police let me go.”
For her part, Peggy Agyei Baffour told of being stopped in the Metro and asked for her Opus card. Eventually she found herself surrounded by five officers. “I kept asking why, but that’s not necessarily the right way to respond. It’s best to just answer questions quickly and go to court later if you think you were unjustly ticketed.” Listening to her, Commander La Penna nodded in agreement.
And Brian Newman, in Canada from Jamaica since 2008, recounted being followed by a police cruiser as he walked home at night from the bus stop. “I hadn’t done anything wrong but I felt awkward and tense. I was very uncomfortable. The experience didn’t leave me with a very good image of the police.”
“I don’t accept racial profiling in any way,” states Commander La Penna. “It’s against the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and it accomplishes nothing for the police. In fact it leads the public to lose confidence in the police.” Since 2005, he has given courses to police officers all over Montreal on racial profiling, and he says there is no room for racial profiling in police work.
Asked when racial profiling began, Commander La Penna described how, beginning in the 70s, American police started using computers to analyze large amounts of data to gain a better understanding of crimes and criminal activity. The analysis led eventually to profiling criminals and to racial profiling as well. But as civil liberties became better protected by law and after the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed here in Quebec in 1982, “racial profiling” became illegal and started to make the news.
Commander La Penna says that it doesn’t work and is adamant about rooting out improper police behaviour. “Racial profiling wastes the officer’s time, and my time, and my resources. It’s not the way to catch criminals. Here in Saint-Laurent, I want to know about it so that I can deal with my officers.”
“We’re very pleased with how the panel went. I think it was helpful for students. We hope to do more in the future,” indicated Danielle Brown of Student Services, who organized the event.