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Montreal, August 24, 2011 --- Amal Asmar, the Arab Concordia University graduate who was arrested and fined by two Montreal Police officers, has won another round in her case, after the Police Ethics Committee ruled the officers had acted in bad faith by fining her more than double or triple the normal rate.

In February 2010, Ms. Asmar was violently detained and arrested by two Montreal Police officers upon leaving the university's downtown library late one night. As she sat on a bench near the bus stop to organise her backpack, a police car pulled up and two officers began aggressively questioning her. They then demanded to see her ID. The officers were responding to a 9-1-1 call from a “francophone woman” who had called about another woman being beaten by a Black man. They intercepted Ms. Asmar, who was near the place where the 9-1-1 call was made, but failed to convey this fact information to her at the time.

Within minutes of interception, Ms. Asmar was violently arrested and handcuffed. She was later released with two fines: one for $620 for misuse of municipal property and another for $420 for making a loud noise other than yelling. The officers wrote in their report that she had put five bags on the bench, and was yelling loudly. Ms. Asmar maintains, however, that she had only two bags with her and that she screamed when she was roughed up by the two officers because she was afraid and in pain.

With CRARR's help, Ms. Asmar filed a civil rights complaint against the officers and the City of Montreal, as well as a police ethics complaint against the officers for racial profiling and other civil rights violations. Due to the public outcry at the excessive amount of the fines and the abusive arrest, the City has dropping the fines against her.

In January 2011, Police Ethics Commissioner Paul Simard upheld most of the complaint filed by Ms. Asmar and called the two police officers before the Police Ethics Committee for breaching several sections of the Quebec Code of Police Ethics. He ruled in her favor on all grounds, except for those related to racial profiling, bringing charges without justification and the officers' refusal to identify themselves. The Commissioner dismissed the complaint against the police supervisor, who showed up during the arrest, since, in his opinion, the supervisor could not be “held responsible for the false or erroneous information he received” from the officers.

Troubled by the Commissioner's position on the justification for the two fines and the rejection of the racial profiling aspect, Ms. Asmar filed for a review of the decision with the Police Ethics Committee in February 2011.

Last week, Committee Member Louise Rivard issued the review decision (see below) in which she questioned the officers' decision to issue fines as well as the amount of these fines. In her opinion, the “disproportionate” fines were double and triple the minimal amount normally associated with the infractions. The Committee noted the officers “bad intentions and questioned their “attitude“ given that one of the fines was issued for yelling. It reversed Commissioner Simard's decision to justify the tickets, and called for the two officers to appear before the Committee.

The Committee did conclude, however, that the officers had done nothing “reprehensible” by taking an interest in Ms. Asmar, who was sitting on a public bench at 2:30am during the winter (although it failed to explain the context). It also added that they had not acted on the basis of her race, effectively rejecting the racial profiling and bias claim.

“The officers were responding to a call from a francophone woman about another woman being assaulted by a Black man. If that is the case, why was there such a display of excessive force and bad faith, as well as disproportionate fines for someone who could have been a victim or a witness?”, asked Ms. Asmar.  “Also, why did they start off speaking in English to me if the woman who called 9-1-1 was francophone? Do they know the color of the woman who called? Was she white? If so, why was I stopped?”

Fo Niemi, CRARR's Executive Director, added: “While the Committee did the right thing about the two excessive fines, it completely missed the mark on the racial profiling claim. We believe that both the Commissioner and the Committee have shown a remarkably poor lack of understanding of racial profiling, especially with regards to developing jurisprudence in our country.”

CRARR is examining legal options for appeal.

Read the Police Ethics Committee Decision (in French only. NB. For unknown reasons, Committee rulings on applications for review of the Police Ethics Commissioner's decisions are not published after a certain time):

R-2011-1470_Asmar.pdf42.84 KB