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Montréal, August 31, 2020 - In a decision issued last week, the Police Ethics Committee has suspended without pay two Montreal police officers for a total of 26 days for 16 violations of the Code of Ethics of Quebec Police Officers.

The racial profiling incident occurred on Westminster St. in Montreal-West in March 2017. At around 10:30 pm, Kenrick McRae, a Black man, was waiting in his Mercedes while his female companion was doing a transaction at a bank ATM. A police car, moving in the opposite direction, made a quick U-turn and positioned itself behind McRae’s car. As he began to drive away with his friend, McRae was pulled over by officers Christian Benoît and Philippe Bernard-Thomassin.

When McRae asked Bernard-Thomassin if racial profiling was the reason for the stop, the latter replied that he was stopped to verify if the car he was driving belonged to him. After checking McRae’s papers, Bernard-Thomassin changed the reason for stopping McRae, and claimed that he was stopped because his license plate lights were not working. McRae exited his vehicle to verify this claim and used his camcorder to prove that the license plate lights were working properly.

When McRae told both officers that he was to file a complaint against them, one of the officers asked him to hand over his camcorder. As he was protesting, he was handcuffed and placed under arrest in the back of the police car for “disturbing the peace.”

A short time later, other police cars arrived, and eight officers were soon on the scene. In the meantime, the two officers had grabbed McRae’s camcorder and were attempting to erase the recordings. A police supervisor who was on the scene flatly refused to listen to McRae.

Both officers told McRae that since they had not found anything to charge him with, he was released, and they gave him back his camcorder. When he checked his camcorder, he discovered that his recording of this incident and of several previous encounters with the police had been erased.

In last week’s decision, the Committee concluded that both officers had seriously violated the Code of Ethics, and decided that Officer Benoît should be suspended for 34 days, and Officer Bernard-Thomassin, for 28 days, both without pay, in particular, for having committed racial profiling.

However, because sanctions are served concurrently, the actual suspension for each officer is 13 days, of which 5 days are for racial profiling.
“While I am happy with the general number of sanctions, I am strongly concerned that by cutting the number of days of suspension for these police officers by half, the Committee is sending the wrong message to other officers!”, McRae said.

“As a Black man driving a Mercedes, I have been profiled, stopped, detained and fined too many times and I expected the sanctions to be tougher,” he added.

CRARR Executive Director Fo Niemi also raised the need for tougher sanctions.

“A 5-day suspension for racial profiling is far too lenient to have a deterrent effect. Just yesterday, Black drivers in the Driving While Black convoy expressed forcefully in front of the Premier François Legault’s riding office how fed up they are with being pulled over by police and demanded that both the SPVM policy and the Provincial Guide apply to vehicle stops!”, Niemi noted.

“We are pleased that, for one of the few times in the last ten years, the Police Ethics Committee took judicial notice of the reality of “Driving While Black”, as well as the officers’ malicious, immature and unprofessional attitude,” CRARR Advisor Alain Babineau said.

“This decision also confirms that not only do people have the legal right to record a police intervention, but also that officers have no right to seize, search and erase a citizen’s camera and recordings of a police intervention,” Babineau added.

The Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission has also upheld McRae’s complaint against the officers, their supervisor and the City of Montreal. The case now heads to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.
McRae has another active police ethics complaint regarding an incident of “Cleaning His Car While Black” in August 2019.