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Montreal, Canada, November 18, 2008 --- The Quebec Court overturned last month a Police Ethics Committee decision to sanction two police officers for their discriminatory statements towards three Black citizens of Montreal.

In 2004, Ms. Gemma Raeburn was cleaning her garage with her two friends, Mr. Peter Charles and Mr. Frederick Peters, when they were faced with police officers who responded to a neighbor's report of thieves wearing of something “black on their faces.” One officer, Mr. Roger Carbonneau, told Ms. Raeburn in her garage that “bullets don't see color” when she told another officer pointing a gun at her that he would not have “come with such force if it were white people cleaning the garage”, while another officer, Ms. Isabelle Nault, told her friend Mr. Peters in the backyard,“if you don't like it here, why are you here? Why don't you go back to your country?”.The three victims each filed separate complaints before the Police Ethics Commissioner and the human rights commission.

Both officers were sanctioned in February 2007 by the Police Ethics Committee, for conduct contrary to the Quebec Police Code of Ethics (the officers appealed the decision). In the civil rights complaints, they and their employer, the City of Montreal, were also ordered by the human righs commission to pay each of the three $20,000 in moral and punitive damages for their conduct deemed to be discriminatory.

The Commission gave the City until August 22, 2008 to comply and pay the damages to the three Black Montrealers. As of October 1st, 2008, the City had not obeyed the order. Consequently, the Commission has brought the case to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal.

On October 4, 2008, the Court of Quebec set aside the Police Ethics Committee decision, ruling that Officer Carbonneau’s “bullets see no color” statement was “ambiguous, even unfortunate” but not insulting per se, nor was it disrespectul or impolite in light of the intervention context. The Court conclude that his conduct was not a violation of the Code of Police Ethics and cancelled the one-day suspension without pay imposed on him by the Committee.

As for Officer Nault, Mr. Justice Mark Shamie upheld the Committee’s finding that her statement was “offensive”, “inconvenient and inappropriate” and a conduct contrary of the Code of Police Ethics.However, he ruled that since she did not have previous ethics problems and that her words are considered to be “much less serious than certain injurious and racist expressions” used by police officers in other cases (such as “F-ing N-”), it relied on case law on sanctions to reduce her three-day suspensions without pay to a blame.

“The court says that it is not racist for a police officer to tell a Black person, in her own home and with a gun pointed at her, that ‘bullets don’t see color’, because he had no discriminatory intent,” said Ms. Raeburn, a senior banking manager and a prominent Black community leader.

“The court’s decision just shows that it does not understand racism. It is a setback for civil rights in Quebec,” she added.

“Some aspects of the decision should raise concerns,” said CRARR's Executive Director Fo Niemi. “ For instance, the Court relied on intent and motive to rule whether a conduct is racist, while Canadian jurisprudence has, for the last twenty years at least, stated that it is not intent, but effect that matters.”

(In the ruling, the Court ruled that to decide whether an officer’s statement is offensive or inappropriate, one cannot rely on the subjective opinion of the person targeted by the statement but that one has to also take into account the officer’s intent and state of mind as well as the “objectively and intrinsically offensive” nature
of the expression.)

“Since the Court decision is final under the Police Act, it can set the bar higher for citizen complaints of police officers’ verbal misconduct that has racially discriminatory effects. We hope that it will not discourage racialized citizens from filing complaints,” Mr. Niemi added.

The police ethics complaints filed by the three Black Montrealers were originally rejected by the Police Ethics Commissioner. CRARR appealed the Commissioner’s decision to the Police Ethics Committee, which then cast the decision aside and ordered the Commissioner to cite the officers before the Committee.

The case before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal still goes ahead. A court date is expected to be determined in Winter 2009 as the City of Montreal did not comply with the human rights commission’s decision.