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Montreal, April 10, 2010 --- A provincial civil servant of Algerian descent who was detained and searched by private security guards at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQÀM) and who was later physically roughed up by the police has filed a complaint of racial profiling with the human rights commission.

On March 16, 2010, Mr. Slimane Zahaf, a data analyst for the provincial automobile insurance board who was enrolled in the MBA program at UQÀM, arrived on campus at around 2pm to pay for his course. While waiting in line, he was suddenly approached by 2 UQÀM security guards. With little explanation, they began demanding that Mr. Zahaf provide proof of his student status; Slimane was told that he met the vague physical description of a suspect with a black jacket.

Surprised by the allegation, Mr. Zahaf asked the guards why other students meeting these general physical requirements were not being stopped, to which the guards responded vaguely, non-cooperatively and impatiently. While one guard contacted a colleague by walkie talkie to check his student status, Mr. Zahaf was detained for between five to ten minutes, without being informed of his civil rights. Although his student status was quickly confirmed, he was still detained.

When many police officers arrived, Mr. Zahaf was surrounded. After talking with the security guards, one of the officers told him that he would be searched. Mr. Zahaf reacted cooperatively and even took off his jacket to facilitate the procedure. The police then proposed to take him to a more discrete location for the search.

Due to a back problem, Slimane followed four police officers and tried to descend the staircase slowly. One of the police officers, however, forcefully took Slimane’s arm to get him to move more quickly. When the victim reacted by instinctively withdrawing his arm, he was assaulted by all four officers, who forced him to the ground and pressed their knees against his back. One of the officers placed great pressure on the precise area of Mr. Zahaf’s back injury, causing him great pain.

He would be handcuffed, brought to a private room in the university for further search, and was later released when the police realized that he did not fit the suspect’s description and that he did not carry any explosives on him. According to one police officer, his appearance did not event correspond to the original description of a suspect with different color pants and long hair.

Due to his injury, he had to be brought by an ambulance to the emergency ward of a local hospital. The pain became unbearable that he had to ask for an indeterminate medical leave from his work; he also experienced trauma and stress to the point of being unable to concentrate on his exam preparation and even setting foot on the university campus.

Believing that he has been victim of racial profiling, after reading about the university’s version of the incident as reported in the local Montreal Gazette (see below), Mr. Zahaf mandated CRARR to file a complaint on his behalf, citing numerous inconsistent information related to the security guards’ conduct in which his race was a factor.

In the complaint filed today with the human rights commission, CRARR asks for material, moral and punitive damages against the guards, their employer (a private security firm) and UQÀM, for violations of Mr. Zahaf’s civil rights. In addition, CRARR asks the human rights commission to assess the security guards’ training on racial discrimination and profiling, and to compel the university's subcontracted security guards to undergo training on racial profiling and discrimination.

Mr. Zahaf has been undergoing medical treatment for his injuries.

The incident received national coverage, including front-page coverage in the Montreal Gazette. See: