Local man accuses SPVM of racial profiling

Mayor Fumagalli presents a motion to address the issue

Black and indigenous are 4 to 11 times more likely of being stopped by police. Photo: SPVM

It was getting late, close to midnight on a cold night in January. Pierre Fritzner, a politically active businessman well-known in the Parc-Extension community, got into his Range Rover and started to head back home.

On his short drive from his accountant’s office in Saint-Michel to his house in Parc-Extension, Fritzner was not expecting any issues along the way. Although he usually took the highway, he opted instead to take Jarry westward on the night of Jan. 4. 

When he reached the intersection at Saint-Denis, close to the Jarry metro station, he came across an SPVM cruiser pulled over in the opposite lane. Immediately after crossing the intersection at the red light at which he was waiting, the police car did a u-turn and began trailing Fritzner’s SUV.

A mere 400m later, he saw the red and blue lights of the police cruiser light up his rearview mirror. Fritzner had not been speeding nor had he broken any laws since the red light. He was given three separate tickets and detained for close to an hour. Pierre Fritzner also happens to be black. 

Nothing new

“In my early 20s I would drive luxury sports cars, that my parents bought, so I was always being harassed,” recalled Fritzner of his youth, mentioning that when growing up in Villeray he was often one of the only racialized people in the area.

But he was surprised when he underwent the same treatment 25 years later on the night he was pulled over. Fritzner had believed that the SPVM had improved their treatment of racial minorities and had addressed racial issues like the profiling taking place in their ranks.

“Even if you were blind or if you didn’t understand, it’s flagrant that it was racial profiling,” said Fritzner of the unwarranted traffic stop, mentioning that the police purposefully turned around when they saw him at the wheel. 

“The police officer told me to ‘shut my trap if I didn’t want more tickets’,” added Fritzner, remarking the police officer was aggressive and arrogant. After a one-hour wait, Fritzner was issued a ticket for a broken taillight, a ticket for a faulty muffler and a fine for allegedly holding expired insurance documents. Fritzner maintains that all three were false statements on the polices’ part. 

When contacted, the SPVM declined to comment on any particular details regarding the case. “The SPVM does not usually comment on a particular police intervention, as to prevent any influence on a possible judicial, ethical or administrative process,” said police spokesperson Anik de Repentigny.

“Even if you were blind or if you didn’t understand, it’s flagrant that it was racial profiling,”

Common occurrence 

Racial profiling accusations of the SPVM have become mainstream to Montrealers this year, especially since the Jan. 28 incident which saw the wrongful arrest of Mamadi Camara after the attempted murder of police officer Sanjay Vig during a traffic stop in Parc-Extension. 

In August 2019, three independent researchers issued a report that found there was systemic bias in how Montreal police officers performed street checks. Researchers looked through 4 years worth of data and found that Indigenous, Black and Arab people saw the highest proportion of unwarranted stops by police officers. The research had been commissioned by the City of Montreal and authored by sociologist Victor Armony at UQAM and criminologist Massimiliano Mulone from Université de Montréal, along with sociologist Mariam Hassaou from Université TÉLUQ. 

Those proportions showed that of the people stopped on the street 17.9% were indigenous, 16.5% were black and 7.9% were Arab. These groups have a 4 to 11 times higher chance of being stopped by police even though they make up a smaller proportion of the population. 

Although the authors did not conclude that SPVM officers racially profile people, they said that “even though it is not up to us to determine whether racial profiling exists, it is obvious that the results of our analysis reveal disparities and disproportionalities, which suggest the presence of systemic biases.”

They recommended the SPVM should create a street check policy, should produce and publish an annual statistical report that keeps track of how often Indigenous people and visible minorities are stopped by police and develop additional procedures to monitor racial profiling, among others.  

The SPVM does not keep this type of data on people involved in traffic stops. 

Graph by: Matias Brunet-Kirk. Source: Équipe Armony-Hassaoui-Mulone

Motion against profiling

Last week, Villeray—Saint-Michel—Parc-Extension borough mayor Giuliana Fumagalli introduced a motion at Montreal’s city council to address racial profiling inside the SPVM.

“With this motion, I intend to call the City to order on this major issue that affects young people in our neighbourhoods and contributes to the deleterious climate with the SPVM,” said mayor Fumagalli on the motion, which is also supported by Sue Montgomery, borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

The motion demanded the SPVM collect and make available to the public data related to the race of people stopped in vehicles. The motion also demanded that the SPVM “eliminate any candidate showing racial prejudice.” 

They also asked for the reallocation of public safety resources into programing for housing, food security and community services, including community crime prevention programs, especially in underfunded areas like Parc-Extension. The motion was not adopted and instead sent to be studied.

Red tape

Although Fritzner issued an official complaint on his experience of alleged racial profiling, he has yet to know if the officers in question have been sanctioned or disciplined.

“A police officer has to be an officer for all, not for a sector, not for a community, you have to be responsible to have that position,” said Fritzner, adding that it also gave a bad image to the police as a whole. 

Fritzner is by no means opposed to the institution itself, as he feels it fills a vital role in society, but he thinks that there need to be changes inside departments to address this type of systemic racism.

He would like to see better training of police officers on these matters, the introduction of more severe sanctions and the recruitment of officers from more diverse cultural communities. “There needs to be a clear message,” said Fritzner, adding that “if you want to continue in the police, you need to follow these guidelines or otherwise lose your job.”