It was the casual, unbothered body language of the police officers that immediately struck me the most.
I first watched the video of Brice Dossa, a Black man wrongfully detained by Montreal plainclothes police officers this past Thursday, who they suspected of stealing his own car, when it started making the rounds on social media. It was their blasé behaviour I noticed right away. The SPVM police officer can be seen leaning up against the car, feet informally crossed, while an innocent man is pleading with them to take off the handcuffs that they’ve placed on him. Handcuffs, he will soon learn, they don’t even have the keys for.
“Calm down… what do you want me to do? Are you injured? You’re not even injured, I didn’t even hit you,” the plainclothes officer tells Dossa, who, with clear frustration in his voice, can be heard telling the two SPVM officers they have “humiliated him.” Dossa demands to know why they decided to handcuff him before even running the licence plates through their system and verifying that the suspected stolen car was his.
“It’s my car, why am I being handcuffed? It’s a lack of respect,” he says. “Is it because I’m a Black man?”
“Not at all,” insists the second police officer.
“Please remove the handcuffs, they are hurting me,” he pleads, only for the police officers to then realize neither of them has the key.
In the background, the second police officer, also casually leaning up against a car, is heard informing him that other officers are on the way to bring a key to uncuff him.
Casual abuse of power
Of course, the casual body language of these two police officers is not just indifference, but most likely also the fake bravado of two men who have slowly realized they have spectacularly messed up and are trying to minimize the gravity of what’s transpiring while they’re being filmed — at Dossa’s request — by a passerby.
“You handcuff someone, and you don’t even have the keys to release him?” asks Dossa incredulously. “What would you have done if there was an emergency?” The police officer remains unbothered, still casually leaning against the car. The only thing he seems concerned about is the fact that he’s being filmed.
“Stop filming,” he tells the man with the phone. “There’s no need to film, there are cameras everywhere in the parking lot,” he says, pointing around him, as if the man documenting the incident is doing it for the police’s benefit, not as proof of mistreatment for what will almost definitely be a future human rights complaint.
“I don’t arrest people for the fun of it,” continues the police officer who’s still holding on to the handcuffed man’s arm, even though Dossa is showing no signs of resistance or attempts to flee.
“You should have verified that I was the car’s owner before,” continues Dossa in a loud, exasperated tone. “You should do your jobs!”
“It’s over, it’s over, enough…” the police officer can condescendingly be heard, motioning for him to quiet down, as the patrol car with the keys arrive. “Sir, sir, sir… calm down — you weren’t hurt.” As if damage or distress can only be caused by physical violence, and as if trauma only bears visible marks.
The newly arrived police officers are equally condescending. “Let’s calm down now…” one of them can be heard telling Dossa, as if they’re addressing a toddler engaged in a temper tantrum and not an innocent man wrongfully detained.
“If I were a suspect, I would have fled,” the man says. “I work in healthcare, I’m not a criminal. This is humiliating,” he says as one of the cops continues to casually cross his arms like nothing upsetting is going on.
Time and time again acts of #racialprofiling like this continue to occur in #Quebec. This man was handcuffed for “suspected car theft” and the @SPVM officers told him they didn’t have the key after finding out the car was his. Disgusting. @CultMTL @fbonnardelCAQ #RedCoalition pic.twitter.com/1fibzgPUGU— Joel DeBellefeuille (@DeBellefeuille_) November 4, 2022
The wrongful detainment of a Black man by Montreal police proves racial profiling is alive & well
No apology, no acknowledgment of misconduct
After the video went viral, the SPVM acknowledged the incident via Twitter, saying that they immediately launched an administrative investigation.
“Two officers (experts in stolen vehicles) found a vehicle in a mall parking lot that had marks on it suggesting it had been stolen,” the tweets said. “Before they could determine if the car was stolen, a citizen walked up to the car and attempted to take possession of it. The man was temporarily detained for investigative purposes and ultimately released ‘unconditionally’ and ‘without charge.’”
Only that isn’t true. CBC Montreal would later speak with the hospital orderly, who came here from Benin three years ago, and would independently confirm that the car was new and had no marks on it whatsoever. In other words, the SPVM’s statement was a cover-up and a lie, aiming to give the officers a valid reason for the random arrest of an innocent man.
Nowhere in the SPVM tweets is there an acknowledgment that the police officers handcuffed and detained an innocent man before attempting a licence plate check, or that they lacked the key for the handcuffs they were so quick to place on him. Nowhere is there a simple apology for wrongfully detaining him, or at the very least a generic “we shall review our policies and see whether this could have been handled better” response. They merely issued a statement that he was released “unconditionally” and “without charges,” as if he should be grateful for their incredible generosity at not taking this any further. Maybe he should send them a gift basket?
What was disconcerting to me were the number of people in the comments section insisting he “must have done something to merit this treatment” or that those sharing the video just wanted to make Quebecers “look bad,” as if Dossa himself or the people sharing the video aren’t Quebecers, too. It’s revealing of a serious blind spot I see often when issues of racial profiling and systemic racism are broached. Some continue to vehemently deny we have a problem.
According to CBC, Dossa has now “opened the case with Montreal police’s deontology department and is considering taking further action.” Judging by his understandable anger and frustration at his treatment, I fully expect the SPVM will have one more racial profiling case on its hands and Montreal taxpayers will soon be footing the bill for another costly payout. The officers may get a slap on the wrist in the form of a two-day paid suspension, and, once again, no lessons will be learned.
“I feel traumatized. I feel I’ve been humiliated, and this is a discrimination,” Dossa told CBC. “Everyone I spoke to said, ‘If you were white, this could have been (handled) differently. They would not have done that to you.’”
Racial profiling and systemic racism affect visible minorities
Sadly, I tend to agree. Despite what the loud naysayers may say (and that includes Quebec Premier François Legault and his stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge systemic racism), both official statistics and a recent court decision paint a disturbing picture that corroborate Dossa’s impressions.
Only weeks ago, Quebec Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau ruled on a constitutional challenge to random police stops, concluding that racial profiling is very real.
“Racial profiling does exist. It is not a laboratory-constructed abstraction … It is a reality that weighs heavily on Black communities. It manifests itself particularly with Black drivers of motor vehicles.”
In 2019, an independent Montreal report concluded that Indigenous and Black people were four to five times more likely to be subject to a police intervention than white people during the years 2014 to 2017. People of Arab descent were twice as likely to be stopped than white people.”
The SPVM’s then-police-chief Sylvain Caron said at the time that he was “both concerned and surprised” with the report’s findings, while Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante called them “very worrisome” and requested the SPVM follow through with all report recommendations.
Fast forward to 2022 and plus ça change…
In response to Quebec’s Public Safety Minister François Bonnardel announcing on Twitter that “the video raises a lot of questions” and his office is looking into the incident, the Montreal Police Brotherhood immediately tweeted: “In a lawful society, elected officials should refrain from sharing their impressions of the nature of a police operation until all the facts are known. Most of all, they should avoid fueling police disengagement.”
Are you kidding me? That’s an obnoxiously tone deaf and arrogant statement to issue considering the questionable circumstances of this arrest — the amateurish, almost comical ineptitude of the two police officers who rushed to handcuff someone without making sure they were in possession of a key to release him, and the egregious attempt to cover it up by falsely claiming they had a valid reason to suspect him, when they literally had none. This incident is a perfect case study for police racial profiling, and they’re flustered the minister entrusted with public security is commenting on it?
Police behaviour undermines trust in police
“Racial profiling incidents undermine the relationship between police and racialized individuals, families and communities,” announced the Black Community Resource Centre and the Red Coalition in a written statement. The two local groups, which work with minority youth and fight systemic racism, held a community forum over the weekend on racial profiling. “It also decreases their sense of trust in the police, which results in reducing the likelihood of civilians reporting crime, cooperating with police investigations or providing evidence in court.”
Unsurprisingly, Dossa now says he’s afraid of the police.
It’s not politicians’ statements, pundits like me commenting on these incidents or even outraged citizens sharing the video that undermine the SPVM’s work or fuel police disengagement. It’s officers themselves who continue to engage in questionable behaviour that puts their ethics, their bias, their professionalism and training in question.
And then, when they get caught engaging in such damning behaviour, they don’t even have the good form to apologize and admit wrongdoing? They, instead, allow their union to double down and treat Montreal residents — whom they are supposed to protect and serve — as a third party they shouldn’t even have to answer to? It’s a very bad look — and one that only lends credence to those calling for defunding and reforming the police. ■
Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis here.
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