Founded in 1983 - United for Diversity and Racial Equality


Montreal, October 20, 2010 - A Black driver will appeal a Longueuil Municipal Court decision that found him guilty of a penal offense under the Highway Safety Code (HSC) despite explicit evidence of racial bias in the report of the intercepting police officer.

Mr. Joel Debellefeuille, corporate manager and resident of Saint-Constant (south of Montreal) 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. After the officer told him that he had already done so, Mr. Debellefeuille replied that it was his car and that he could be Black and driving a BMW.

The situation degenerated and Mr. Debellefeuille eventually received two fines under the HSC, for refusal to produce ID when required and failure to have his car insurance papers in order.

In June 2010, when he contested one of the fines 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, himself of Arab origin, 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. While setting aside Mr. Debellefeuille's racial profiling defense (including the violation of his constitutional right to equality), the presiding judge ruled that the fact of being interecepted several times before, with the same reason, does not confer to Mr. Debellefeuille, in this case, the immunity from the application of the HSC provisions. Furthermore, the Court considers that the allegations of discriminatory violations of the Quebec Code of Police Ethics (which Mr. Debellefeuille raised) cannot be taken into account since the Municipal Court has no jurisdiction over this regulation.

Finally, the Court cited another Laval Municipal Court decision, in which the judge of that court referred to the Montreal Police Service definition of racial profiling and the 2003 Ontario Court of Appeal decision, R.v. Brown, considered to be the leading and ultimate judicial authority on racial profiling. However, Justice Gravel did not elaborate and dismissed the racial profiling argument, on the grounds that the “Municipal Court cannot interfere in police ethics matters.”

According to Mr. Debellefeuille, the Court erred in the interpretation of racial profiling : “On several occasions, I invoked before the judge, the term “racial profiling”; my wife also raised “racial profiling” and the police report said in black and white terms that “Debellefeuille sounds like a Québécois family name and not of another origin. “ If this does not suffice, I don't know how victims of racial profiling in Quebec can access justice and the protection of their constitutional rights”, he said.

“It is therefore my duty as a citizen and victim of racial profiling to appeal this ruling, because it sets a bad precedent on the issue.”

For Aymar Missakila, CRARR's lawyer who is representing Mr. Debellefeuille, the appeal is inevitable given the explicit proof of racial bias in the police officer's report. “We believe that the judge made a mistake by not taking into account evidence of racial profiling that is both direct and circumstantial in this case. On the contrary, he should have also taken judicial notice of racial discrimination in Quebec, including racial profiling, as required by Canadian jurisprudence“, Mr. Missakila added.

“In addition, the Brown decision, which was cited by the judge and which represents the latest leading authority on racial profiling, was incorrectly interpreted and incompletely cited, since in light of Brown, the Court should have acquitted Mr. Debellefeuille“, said Mr. Missakila.

For CRARR's Executive Director, Fo Niemi, this case illustrates the need for better training for municipal judges on issues of race discrimination. “One can read in this decision the effects of inadequate training and lack of knowledge on civil rights and racial profiling.”

“The case also shows the high risk of citizens who are victims of racial profiling and who represent themselves in municipal courts, without counsel, to be found guilty due to the erroneous interpretation of the law or inadequate judicial sensitivity to race discrimination,” Mr. Niemi added.

It should be noted that the Quebec Police Ethics Committee rendered a decision in the case of a biracial man assisted by CRARR involving similar circumstances (Commissaire à  la déontologie policière c. Nancy Pelletier). In the case of Mr. David Lévêque being intercepted downtown, the tribunal accepted the police officer's grounds of interception and does not in any way doubt her good faith in concluding that there is faint probability that a Black man carries such a name and concluded that her interception was not made on the basis of Mr. Lévêque's race. At CRARR's request, the decision has been appealed by the Commissioner.