Vehicle stops by police without reason constitute a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Quebec Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.
The ruling will not end racial profiling overnight, Judge Michel Yergeau wrote in his ruling, but the court will give authorities six months to amend the laws so police can no longer arrest people without reason, such as for a traffic violation.
“Racial profiling exists. It is not an abstraction constructed in a laboratory. It’s not a view of the mind. This is a reality that weighs heavily on black communities. It’s particularly manifest in black motorists,” Yergeau said. .
“Charter rights can no longer be left to an unlikely moment of police disclosure. Ethics and justice must go hand in hand to turn this page.”
Now is the time for the justice system to recognize and declare that this “unlimited power” violates certain rights guaranteed to the community, the court said.
The move comes after Montreal resident Joseph-Christopher Luamba, a 22-year-old black man, told the court he was preparing to stop if he saw a police patrol.
In the 18 months since he got his driver’s license in March 2018, Luamba says he’s been stopped by police about 10 times without reason. He said he drove about half of the stops and was a passenger in someone else’s car at the other police stops.
These traffic stops were at the heart of the lawsuit he filed against the governments of Canada and Quebec. The case began in May of this year.
Luamba said he believes he was racially profiled at traffic stops, which did not result in a ticket. Common law has long allowed Canadian police to arrest people without cause, but Luamba is fighting to have the practice outlawed.
“I was frustrated,” he told the court. “Why was I arrested? I stuck to the rules. I have not committed any crime.”
Lawyers for Luamba and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which is intervening in the case, told the court that police powers to arbitrarily prevent drivers from driving under the influence outside of checkpoints was unconstitutional and permitted racial profiling.
The court ruled Tuesday that the practice violated the rights guaranteed under Sections 7 and 9 and Section 15 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The overwhelming evidence shows that the police’s arbitrary power to conduct traffic stops without cause has become a vector, even a safe behavior, for some of them for racial profiling of the black community over time,” writes Yergeau in his decision. .
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians—from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community—see Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians should be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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