«For that reconciliation, there needs to be ‘I’m sorry.’ And that has never happened,» Balarama Holness told police Wednesday.
Balarama Holness sat facing Montreal police commanders Wednesday and offered them an ultimatum: If their department wants a better relationship with the city’s racial minorities, they must first apologize for years of oppression.
Holness is part of a movement that successfully lobbied the city to launch a public consultation into systemic racism and on Wednesday he took its police force to task. He opened his presentation by playing a CTV News clip of Montreal police Inspector André Durocher denying the existence of racial profiling within the force’s ranks.
“That is the current position (of the Montreal police),” said Holness, a former Montreal Alouette and candidate for mayor of Montreal North. “We want to talk about solutions, we want to be positive. But systemic racism and profiling is trauma … and for that truth and reconciliation to heal, there needs to be pardon, there needs to be ‘I’m sorry.’
“And that has never happened.”
Last summer, he gathered enough signatures — more than 22,000 — to trigger the consultation and Holness focused Wednesday’s discussion on the police’s treatment of minorities and Indigenous people.
The commission comes only months after a research group at Concordia University released a damning study on police interactions with racial minorities in east end Montreal. Almost all of the people interviewed reported being routinely stopped by officers and asked for their identification for no reason.
They reported feeling traumatized by police and distrustful of the institution because of these interactions.
Last December, the Montreal police department launched a strategic action plan to work against racial and social profiling within the department. They will make annual progress reports on that action plan starting next December at a meeting of the Public Security Commission at city hall.
Study after study finds that racial minorities and Indigenous people are disproportionately arrested and ticketed by police while being under-represented within their ranks.
Speaking on behalf of the city, Johanne Derome said the police department, fire department and métro security have increased their efforts to recruit employees who are Indigenous or a racial minority. She added that training among city employees — including police — is being updated to include “notions of profiling.”
“The intention of people of colour is to ensure that we are recognized for the systemic discrimination, profiling and excessive use of force against us where in other communities, under similar circumstances, other measures are applied,” said Tiffany Callender, executive director of the Côte-des-Neiges Black Community Association.
“People of colour can no longer proceed in the city as though they are dealing with a boogieman,” she added. “Others will quickly tell them this situation doesn’t exist. This is real and it often ends in circumstances that are bodily harmful or deadly.”
Longtime community organizer Nakuset said she doesn’t need an apology from police.
“Don’t wait for an apology because a lot of these apologies … they’re forced into apologizing and then they revert to the same behaviour, or worse,” said Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. “My advice is accountability. We don’t want the apology. We want you to be accountable.”
Nakuset spoke of the case of Mina Akuliak, a badly injured Inuit woman who was taken to a police station, questioned and released into the cold winter night despite still having a catheter in her arm and not speaking English or French.
Akuliak was only found a week later and for days her relatives feared she was dead.
“I know that the police hold us accountable for everything we do and I know it should be equal,” Nakuset said.