On Sunday, July 5 in Montréal, hundreds of people drove in protest against the dehumanizing racial profiling of Black drivers, known as “Driving while Black”. Two convoys, draped in Quebec and Canadian flags, converged at metro station Namur where several city councilors and activists gave speeches. Demonstrators came from Longueuil, Repentigny, and Terrebonne, showing that the problem is not confined to Montréal. Echoing the massive uprising in the U.S., many drivers displayed signs such as “No to racial profiling!”, “Driving while Black, Proud and Free” and “Black Lives Matter”.
Montréal has a long history of profiling against Black people. Until last fall, the Montréal police (SPVM) simply ignored any criticism the of racism within their ranks. In October 2019, a conclusive four-year study found that Blacks were four times as likely to be stopped as Whites (while Arabs were twice as likely to be checked, and Indigenous men and women six times and 11 times as likely, respectively). In response to this study, the police chief, Sylvain Caron, stated that “We don’t have any racist police officers… We have police officers who are citizens and who, inevitably, have biases like all citizens can have.” Thus, according to Caron, since racism exists in society, and police are members of society, that makes racist behaviour acceptable. Some logic! Needless to say, nothing was done to solve the problem.
Yet once again, in June of this year, a report by the Public Consultation Office of Montréal (OCPM) concluded that “the fight against racism and discrimination has been neglected” in the City of Montréal, and presented 38 measures to fight racial profiling. OCPM President Dominique Ollivier said that “Three or four months ago, I don’t think we would have had the same readiness to listen as there is now…” This time, in light of the mass movement in the U.S., the same Sylvain Caron was forced to admit the existence of systemic racism within the SPVM, and presented a new policy on street checks on July 8.
But this reform is completely useless. For example, it is now policy that police cannot stop someone for reasons “unfounded, random, or based on discriminatory criterion [sic].” This begs the question: was it not against policy before July 8 to stop someone based on “discriminatory criteria”? Clearly, something is rotten in the City of Montréal.
Meanwhile, the concept of “Driving while Black” (a play on “driving while under the influence”) is a harsh reality for Black Quebecers. A demonstrator, Alberto Syllion, told the Montreal Gazette: “Most people think it happens because you’re driving a luxury car, but the reality is it happens whatever you’re driving… I drive a 2006 Matrix. The paint job isn’t even good. And I still get stopped for verification or whatever other excuses they find.” Another protester, Kenrick McRae, said that “Driving while Black in Montréal, I think sometimes it’s a crime because when they can’t get us on the street, they just stop us for no reason. I feel like a second-class citizen. You work, you’re paying your taxes, but you’re still getting this harassment.”
This flagrant harassment has built up to a critical point, and people are demanding action. Nathalie Pierre-Antoine, borough councilor in Montréal, said at the protest that “There have been charters, reports, many committees that have put down reports, made recommendations to stop racial profiling and discrimination and racism. But enough is enough. We are tired with words.” The recent police reforms are insultingly worthless, with many people seeing them as cheap talk that will not change a single thing. In fact, many Montréal groups have already been demanding the defunding of the SPVM’s $600-million budget.
However, this weak reform does show that the ruling class and their police lackeys are frightened by the audacious uprising in the U.S. and its repercussions here. Feeling the fire under their bottoms, they are warming up to the idea of police reform. As one organizer, Denburk Reid, correctly stated at the demonstration: “It’s a small step towards them [SPVM] finally saying, ‘Yes, there’s an issue with profiling,’ but at the same time they’re doing it because of the pressure we’ve put on them.” This is the lesson of the U.S. uprising—only militant, collective action by workers and the oppressed can squeeze reforms from the ruling class. This is why the Quebec trade unions and labour movement as a whole must bring their resources and numbers into the fight against racism and oppression here.
As we have explained elsewhere, racism and oppression are an integral part of the capitalist exploitation machine. Capitalism needs racism and oppression in all its forms in order to divide and rule. The police, the armed body in charge of defending the status quo by force (the 2012 student strike is a good example of this), will necessarily reproduce and reinforce the racism inherent in capitalism. It is not one or two rotten apples here and there, but a brutal and repressive institution as a whole. Rather than attempting to reform this institution, we must fight to abolish the police and replace them with security organs directly controlled by the organizations of the working class and the oppressed. The labour movement should boldly put forward this demand, and unite workers of all backgrounds in a fight against the capitalist system itself. Working class unity is the path to end the foul plague of racism once and for all.