Black Montrealers are much more likely to be arrested by an SPVM anti-gun squad than other groups, according to a report by Concordia University professor Ted Rutland.
The report found that 74% of all persons charged by the Quiétude squad — a team of about 20 investigators — were Black while 19% were white. 6% were non-Black people of colour.
Black Montrealers were "over 42 times more likely to be stopped by the anti-gun squad than white people," Rutland's report concluded.
The stark findings are based on data Rutland obtained through an access to information request, which found 31 people had been arrested and charged by the unit between December 2019 and April 2020.
We spoke to Rutland about his findings. Responses have been edited for clarity.
This is a persistent problem, Rutland says
"From a historical study of police, you see that in moments when they are intensely criticized for racial profiling or racist violence, one of their common responses is to launch a new operation or squad that targets a form of crime that is easily associated with communities of colour," he told MTL Blog.
"It's a new justification to keep doing what they were doing already."
He also pointed out that only about 31% of the charges brought by the anti-gun squad were related to guns. The majority of charges (about 54%) were related to drugs, his report stated.
In a statement published on its website on October 15, the SPVM said it established the Quiétude squad "to counter gun violence in Montreal and thus ensure the safety of all citizens."
"The SPVM conducts its investigations and operations with respect for the individual rights and freedoms of all citizens, regardless of their real or perceived ethnocultural identity," it said.
"The SPVM's priority has always been to ensure the safety of all Montrealers, which is why efforts are currently being made to counter gun violence."
Rutland says Legault isn't doing enough
Despite an abundance of anti-racist rhetoric, Premier François Legault is not doing enough to combat racism in the police department, said Rutland.
"If we take him at his word that he's deeply concerned by racism, we'd expect he'd demand a meeting with the chief of police and hold the police force to task," he said.
"He obviously doesn't take the problem seriously."
Contacted by MTL Blog, Premier Legault's office declined to respond to Rutland's accusation.
The professor also took exception to the premier's characterization of calls he previously made to get people released from prisons over fears they could become COVID-19 hot spots.
Rutland countered that the premier had sought to discredit him by "misquoting something I said in the spring and then dodging the question [about the report] entirely."
What should be done to change police departments?
To make them more accountable, police should provide data on the racial backgrounds of the people they're stopping, said Rutland.
"We also need to ensure that police officers who commit acts of racism face some kind of consequences."
He also called for the defunding of the police department in favour of "investing in community solutions that support people's safety and well-being," as well as funding programs that would help marginalized youth achieve their goals.
"Clearly systemic racism exists in Quebec," he said. "I think it exists everywhere in the world. We ought to recognize reality."