The federal government has until Nov. 25 to appeal a Quebec Superior Court ruling that ended random traffic stops in Quebec—which the court argued is an iteration of racial profiling that disproportionately affects Black people. The case was brought to the court by Joseph-Christopher Luamba, a 22-year-old Black resident from Montreal, whom the police stopped 12 times in 18 months without cause. An appeal would threaten this vital ruling that marks a significant step forward in protecting Black people from the systemic racism and the consistent violence that is entrenched within policing.
The Superior Court’s acknowledgement of racial profiling is crucial to ensure dignity for overpoliced communities. Premier François Legault and the Quebec government have continuously denied the existence of systemic racism in the province, and the court’s ruling is a snub to these politicians. Beyond this, the ruling is in opposition to the traditional relationship between the courts and the police. In Quebec and elsewhere, police tend to lean on the law for support and justification of their actions, and the ruling calls this practice into question. Further, the decision can be used as a precedent for similar rulings in other provinces regarding traffic stops, which remain prevalent across Canada.
Beyond the policy and legal implications of the decision, the move to end random traffic stops improves the day-to-day quality of life for Black people in Quebec. It is important to emphasize the increased comfort this will bring; Black people will be able to do everyday tasks such as going shopping or driving their kids to school without as intense a fear of being legally harassed by police officers.
Despite this being an essential step forward, the ruling remains limited in its scope as it operates within the flawed framework inherent to policing. Justice Michel Yergeau, who delivered the ruling, underlined that it applies specifically to traffic stops and that it is not an indictment of systemic racism within the entire police force. This is contradicted by the facts of policing on the ground: Black and Indigenous people are subjected to significantly more violence and harassment by the police compared to white people, they are stripped of dignity and humiliated in police reports and media coverage, and there remains little accountability or oversight over the police. In Canada, contrary to the U.S., racial data is not collected in any province other than Ontario when police violence occurs, so it is almost impossible to accurately hold the police to account for their disproportionate targeting of people of colour. With these continued abuses by the police, we must contextualize that although ending traffic stops is a small victory, it cannot end there.
The judge’s denial of the existence of systemic racism also goes against the very nature of policing—within which systemic racism is unshakeably ingrained. Systemic racism means that even if the members of the system are not racist, outcomes will be racist because of its structure. Policing is a clear example of this. The origins of policing go back to the colonization of Indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Black people. These structures of violence were meant to fulfill objectives of oppression, and the same structures remain to this day. As long as policing exists, it will continue to oppress marginalized people. For this reason, abolishing the police is the only road forward.
Similar to the rest of Quebec, McGill fosters an environment of systemic racism. Black and Indigenous professors remain underrepresented, while Black and Indigenous students bear the burden of educating those around them. The administration litigated aggressively against the Mohawk Mothers in an attempt to continue construction on a site potentially holding unmarked Indigenous graves. Systemic racism also is an issue among student groups. The Black Student Network (BSN) and Students for Palestinian Human Rights McGill (SPHR) are constantly mistreated by the Students’ Society of McGill University, and campus media continues to publish harmful and racist content. Systemic racism goes beyond traffic stops, and, hopefully, this ruling is the first step towards a broader recognition of the systemic racism permeating all our institutions.