Founded in 1983 - United for Diversity and Racial Equality


Montreal, February 4, 2011 --- The Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission has ordered the City of Montreal to pay $20,000 in damages to a Black couple who was treated in a discriminatory manner by a police officer downtown.

On April 9, 2007, Mr. Félix Fini and Ms. Christy Coulibaly, originally from the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso respectively, were driving home from a dinner at their friends’ place, around half past midnight. Both graduates from the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières and in their twenties, the couple had their 2 month-old son who slept in the back seat of their car. After leaving a gas station at the corner of Papineau and Ontario, the couple was heading West when they were stopped by two police officers for a routine vehicle check.

Mr. Fini showed the female police officer his driver’s license from his native country. He had arrived in Canada in 2002 as a foreign student and was only able to obtain his Quebec license in November 2007. The officer told him that he could not drive with that permit and that the car was not registered to his name. Mr. Fini replied that the car was registered to his spouse.

Noticing Mr. Fini’s frustration, the officer told him that he should return to his country if he was exasperated being in Canada. Surprised, Mr. Fini asked her why he should do so and whether this statement was racially biased. The officer repeated that he should return to his country if he did not like to be stopped by the police.

After a second check in her police vehicle, the officer informed Mr. Fini that his license had been suspended by the SAAQ (Automobile Insurance Board), which he did not know about due to his recent move to Montreal in February 2007, and that the car would be seized.

Approximately 45 minutes after the interception, Mr. Fini’s car was towed. During this time, the couple had to wait on the sidewalk with the baby. When he informed the officer of his baby in the back seat, she dryly replied by asking without checking, how he could prove that there was a baby in the car. She then told the couple to get out of the car.

Seeing that the baby was reacting to the cold, Mr. Fini went to the officer and asked if it would be possible to leave the baby in the police car. The female officer replied that a police car was not “a taxi.” Mr. Fini then said that he and his wife did not have enough money on them to pay for a cab to return their home in Ville Saint-Laurent. The officer told him to walk home. The two officers then handed the couple a $438 ticket for driving with a suspended license.

In a complaint filed on their behalf by CRARR, Mr. Fini and Ms. Coulibaly not only decried the female officer’s unjustified statements related to his country of origin and to the reasons for his presence in Canada, but also, for her comment to go back to his country if he was not happy in Quebec. They also deplore the officer’s lack of concern for the safety and security of their baby.

In its decision adopted in November 2010 and sent to the couple last week, the Commission considers that there is sufficient evidence of violations of the couple’s civil rights based on ethnic or national origin, and recommends $ 10 000 in damages for each. The City has until February 25, 2011 to comply with the order, failing which the Commission will bring the case to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.

« What a nice way to mark Black History Month!”, said Mr. Fini. “We encourage all members of the Black community, especially those of African ancestry, to file complaints if this kind of situation happens to them. It is a nice moral victory for us”, he added.

« Let’s hope that this decision will affirm once and for all that it is simply discriminatory, especially for a police officer, to tell a person of color to go back to his or her country if he or she does not like things in Quebec”, said CRARR’s Executive Director Fo Niemi.

Despite this decision, the couple may have to wait longer to obtain compensation. For the last three years, the City of Montreal has engaged in numerous legal procedures to prevent cases of police discrimination and racial profiling from being examined by the human rights commission and the human rights tribunal.

To read more about the case: