The Montreal police have a terrible history of killing Black civilians. The names of some of the victims, such as Presley Leslie, Marcellus Francois, and Alain Magloire, give testimony to that fact. That is only part of the story as Black residents regularly speak out against racial profiling and violence directed against them by Montreal police. It is important to note, then, that the 58-year-old man shot multiple times and killed by Montreal police on June 27, 2017, has been identified as a Black man by the BEI (Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes, Bureau of Independent Investigations), the agency that examines cases of police harm to civilians in Quebec. The victim has not yet been named.
The killing again raises many questions about the Montreal police force (though racism and regular deployment of lethal force are standards of police forces across Canada at municipal, provincial, and federal levels). As Fo Niemi, the executive director of Montreal’s Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, suggests: “It raises the question, ‘where do we go from here?’ Is this a case where race plays a role in this incident? Is it mental health? I think there are a lot of questions here that need to be asked because this is not a situation that should occur too often in this city” (quoted in CBC News 2017).
Before being shot the man had only been suggested to be breaking things in his apartment. Surely not a capital, or even particularly harmful “offense.” As community activist Will Prosper, a former RCMP officer, puts it the man appears not have been “presenting a menace to anyone except to his apartment” (quoted in CBC News 2017). Yet police moved to coercive, then lethal means. Questions must be asked about the role of racism, or implicit bias, in this.
Critics note that police use of threatening behavior and the display of weapons will only make the situation worse in a case of someone experiencing mental distress or already feeling anxious and defensive. As Prosper suggests: “That’s not what you need to preserve the life of the citizen. It’s going to do the [complete opposite], and I think that’s probably what happened in this case” (quoted in CBC News 2017). In Prosper’s view, the man could have benefited from someone talking to and calming him down without the presence of weapons. In Prosper’s words: “If you’re saying ‘calm down’ and you have the gun pointed at his face, that’s not going to work” (quoted in CBC News 2017). This is why police should not be sent in such cases in place of health care providers (if anyone needs to be sent for smashing dishes at home at all).
Police racism and the killings of Black men have received too little public attention and ire. These realities have been ideologically downplayed by governments at all levels. They have also been distorted and denied by police officers, forces, and associations. Criminologists in Canada have also done too little to expose and challenge these issues, too often playing the part of police apologists. Black Lives Matter activists and movements have done much work to shift understandings in the Canadian context.
CBC News. 2017. “’Where do We Go from Here?’ Fatal Shooting by Montreal Police Raises Hard Questions.” CBC News. June 28. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/montreal-police-shooting-mental-illness-1.4181469