At a press conference on Monday June 2nd, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said, “I think there is some discrimination in Quebec, but there’s no systemic discrimination. There’s no system in Quebec of discrimination. And it’s a very, very small minority of the people that are doing some discrimination… we still have work to do to fight against racism… that’s not the kind of society we want in Quebec,” He believes that ‘Quebec has seen its share of racist incidents, but that they have been nowhere as bad as in the United States’. This comes after thousands of peaceful demonstrators took the streets of Montreal last Sunday, in solidarity with those protesting racism and police violence in the United States – after a white police officer killed George Floyd, a black man, when he pinned him down with his knee, ignoring his repeated pleas that he was not able to breathe. It was all caught on camera.
Legault’s remarks are in contrast to Prime Minister Trudeau who said on Monday that ‘anti-black racism is real… systemic discrimination is real’. As well, Mayor Valerie Plante, who called the Montreal demonstration ‘noble and necessary’, recognized there is ‘systemic racism in all parts of society – including the SPVM’.
Plante then referred to a study, based on a pilot project where 78 SPVM officers had tested out the ‘Axon Body 2’ cameras while on patrol, and said it ‘could be revisited to put them in place in the future’. The report from the SPVM, submitted to Montreal city council in January 2019, stated that the body cameras had ‘little impact on interventions, present logistical challenges’ and ‘left most officers who had to wear them feeling as if they’re under surveillance’ and close to ‘90% of the officers simply not wanting them’. They claimed the body cameras would cost $17.4 million over five years and deploying the cameras would create additional labour costs that would be around $20 million a year in order to hire 200 additional officers because of the time it takes to process all the information collected on video. At the time, the city had determined the body cameras would not be viable.
André Durocher, SPVM spokesperson, did not admit systemic racism was present in the force, but still referred to a 2019 report showing black and Indigenous people were four to five times more likely to be stopped by police than white people. The comments made by the Premier were not very well received by those who have been working hard and trying to get the government to recognize that racism in Quebec was a serious and real problem.