Fondé en 1983 --Unis pour la diversité et l'égalité raciale

A LANDMARK COURT DECISION ON RACIAL PROFILING: JOEL DEBELLEFEUILLE WON HIS CASE AGAINST THE LONGUEUIL POLICE



Montreal, September 27, 2012 --- Mr. Joel Debellefeuille has finally won his case against the Longueuil City Police after a three-year legal battle against racial profiling and other civil rights violations.

In a landmark 66-page decision rendered on September 20, 2012, Mr. Justice Pierre-Armand Tremblay of the Municipal Court of Longueuil ruled that the Black businessman was a victim of racial profiling in 2009 when he was stopped by two police officers while driving his BMW with his family. The court acquitted Mr. Debellefeuille of two offenses, declaring at the same time that his constitutional rights to equality and to protection against arbitrary detention, both protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, were violated and that consequently, all evidence obtained during and after his police interception must be excluded.

“It has been a long and expensive three-year battle against racial profiling and for the protection of my constitutional and civil rights,” said Mr. Debellefeuille. “My fight is not just about me or my family, but it is for all Black and other racialized people in this city and province who are too often the target of police racism and who cannot afford to fight all the way,” he added.

Mr. Debellefeuille, a resident of the South Shore, was intercepted in July 2009 by the Longueuil police while driving his family in his black BMW. After stopping his car, Mr. Debellefeuille came out of his vehicle and was asked by the officer, “Hey, guy, is this your car?”. Considering the question to be unprofessional, Mr. Debellefeuille told the officer that his name was not “Guy”, that his wife and children were in the car, and that the officer could have checked for his name based on the license plate. The situation degenerated and Mr. Debellefeuille eventually received two fines under the Highway Safety Code for refusing to provide documents to a peace officer when required and failure to have his car insurance papers in order.

In June 2010, when he contested the fine related to his refusal to produce ID in Longueuil Municipal Court, he noted for the first time the police report presented in court, in which the intercepting officer's discriminatory motive was written in black and white: “the vehicle belongs to a certain Debellefeuille Joel, it was a Black man who did not correspond at first sight to the owner. Debellefeuille sounds like a Québécois family name and not of another origin.” During the hearing, Mr. Debellefeuille raised on several occasions the fact that he was a victim of racial profiling; in addition, the intercepting officer stated that Mr. Debellefeuille's race was the “primary reason” for his interception and that he would intercept Asian persons with a Québécois family name.

On September 29, 2010, Mr. Justice Marc Gravel delivered his decision. Setting aside Mr. Debellefeuille's racial profiling defense (including the violation of his constitutional right to equality), the judge found him guilty. Furthermore, the Court considered that the allegations of discriminatory violations of the Quebec Code of Ethics for Police Officers (which Mr. Debellefeuille raised) could not be taken into account since the Municipal Court has no jurisdiction over this Code. Finally, the Court dismissed the racial profiling argument, on the grounds that the “Municipal Court cannot interfere in police ethics matters.”

Mr. Debellefeuille filed an appeal, challenging the Court’s failure to apply both the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights and Freedoms and its incorrect application of Canadian jurisprudential standards on racial discrimination and profiling. His appeal also sought a declaration that since the police officer’s act did constitute racial profiling, the Court should have dismissed the charge had it correctly applied the Charters. CRARR’s lawyer, Aymar Missakila, represents Mr. Debellefeuille.

In a decision rendered in November 2011, Mr. Justice Jerry Zigman of the Quebec Superior Court ruled that trial judges must take into account racial profiling as a defense and a factor that could have influenced police actions in an interception. It also ordered a new trial for Mr. Debellefeuille, sending the case back to the Municipal Court.

In the new Municipal Court decision, which Mr. Debellefeuille’s lawyer Aymar Missakila hails as a judicial milestone, Mr. Justice Tremblay not only examines the facts in light of contemporary Canadian and Quebec jurisprudence on racial profiling, but also conducts a comprehensive review of what racial profiling is and what it is not, from both criminal law and civil rights perspectives. Additionally, Mr. Justice Tremblay recognized that racial profiling can be involuntary and proceeded to describe specific police conduct and practices of profiling, such as contradictory and incredible accounts, inappropriate behaviors and differential treatment of members of certain groups – in this case, Black persons driving luxury cars.

More importantly, the trial judge issued a firm rebuke of the racial stereotypes and cultural bias that led the officers to believe that a Black man could not have a Québécois-sounding family name. “To believe wrongly or by ignorance that the family name “Debellefeuille” could not be the last name of a person with black skin only denotes a flagrant lack of knowledge of Quebec society”, he wrote in para. 264.

“This is a landmark decision that will serve as an important judicial reference and training material for judges, lawyers and police officers in Quebec, because the trial judge has conducted an impressive and unprecedented review of case law on racial profiling,” added Mr. Missakila.

“Today, we call upon Longueuil Mayor Caroline St-Hilaire and Police Chief Denis Desroches to show leadership by speaking out against racial profiling and by adopting specific measures to prevent police discrimination in the city, ” added CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi.

CRARR is presently representing Mr. Debellefeuille in a second complaint against two other officers who tailed him for several blocks last March when he was driving his child to a daycare center in broad daylight. According to the 2006 census, visible minorities made up almost 12% of the Longueuil population, Blacks being the largest racialized group.

In response to Mr. Debellefeuille's complaint filed in 2010, the Police Ethics Commissioner has cited the officers before the Police Ethics Committee for violation of the Quebec Code of Ethics for Police Officers. The Committee will hold hearings in October 2012. His civil rights complaint was rejected earlier by the Quebec human rights commission due to the fact that he filed it after the six-month prescription for civil action against municipalities.

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