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Laval man wins second racial profiling case against police

“I believe that these damages should be much higher in order to have a deterrent effect,” says Pradel Content, seen in a file photo.
“I believe that these damages should be much higher in order to have a deterrent effect,” says Pradel Content, seen in a file photo.

Pradel Content, an English-speaking Black man, has won a second legal victory over police officers in Laval.

Content’s first racial profiling complaint against the city and two police officers was upheld last month by the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission. The commission has asked for $24,000 in damages from the city and two police officers.

In the most recent ruling, it recommended that the city and two other officers pay him a total of $13,000 in damages. The commission also asked that the city enact systemic measures to address racial profiling.

The complaint stems from an incident in July 2018. Content was chatting with neighbours around 10:30 p.m. in front of his residence in Laval when a police car drove by and made a U-turn in front of the building. Content, who has been stopped on numerous occasions, took out his cellphone to film the intervention.

Officers Kévin Langlois and Philippe Bélisle asked him in French if he had a problem with his phone. Content told them that he was recording to “protect his human rights,” and the officers used a sarcastic tone to mock him. As the officers were driving away, Content said “bitch” out of exasperation. A week later, he received in the mail a $77 ticket for having insulted a police officer during the “exercise of his functions.”

He contested the ticket and sought help from the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) in filing a civil-rights complaint and a police ethics complaint against the officers. In February 2019, Justice Chantal Paré of Laval Municipal Court acquitted Content, declaring that no violation of the law had been committed and that the officers had approached Content without a valid reason and had ridiculed him. She ruled that the officers’ version was contradicted by the video, and the police intervention constituted an abuse of power and a violation of Content’s constitutional rights to life, security and liberty.

Last month, the Police Ethics Commissioner cited both officers for abuse of authority and for conduct that did not inspire public confidence.

In its decision, the Human Rights Commission found that Content was a victim of racial profiling based on his race, colour and gender, and asked both officers and the city to jointly pay him $10,000 in damages. In addition, Bélisle and Langlois were asked to personally pay Content $2,000 and $1,000 respectively in punitive damages.

“I believe that these damages should be much higher in order to have a deterrent effect,” Content said at a news conference Sunday. “The mayor and the chief of police of Laval should be held accountable, too.”

As in its first decision, the commission also recommends that the Laval police department adopt a policy against racial profiling and institute a program of training for all its officers, supervisors and managers. In addition, the police department must “systematically” collect and publish data on the race of individuals intercepted by the police. It should also adopt, within one year, a policy on the citizens’ right to record police interventions with their cellphones or cameras.

Two months ago, CRARR filed another complaint on behalf of Content, who was tailed by a police officer in March 2020 as he was driving home in his Cadillac Escalade. The officer made a U-turn to follow Content to his residence without a valid reasons and then fined him for using a phone while driving. Content claimed he had already parked his car before starting to film the officer.

Laval has refused to comply with both decisions on Content’s complaints and the cases will be filed by the commission with the Human Rights Tribunal next week.

CRARR executive director Fo Niemi said the group will present proposals on police reform and racial profiling at the public hearings held by the provincial advisory committee on police practices.

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