New Quebec Superior Court ruling bans traffic stops without valid reasons
It was a highly anticipated judgement rendered on October 25, 2022 by the Honourable Justice Michel Yergeau, ending a 21-day trial during which many witnesses had two things in common: the surreal number of traffic stops without real grounds to which they have been subjected since they held a valid driver's license, and the colour of their skin. Justice Yergeau of the Quebec Superior Court, in a 170-page ruling, officially announced the banning of all police roadside interceptions without valid reasons, a privilege that police forces had long enjoyed. These interventions, which were left to the discretion of peace officers, were first legally challenged in 1988 by the Superior Court, which at the time concluded that such a privilege (called "arbitrary detention") was appropriate, and a second time in 1990, when the Ladouceur decision came into play and once again solidified the Court's position (although this time more divided on the issue of roadside arrests without grounds, five judges to four).
Since the Ladouceur decision, a specific phenomenon is now recognized as guiding, unconsciously or not, police interventions during traffic stops without valid reasons: racial profiling. Both a societal scourge and a cognitive bias, racial profiling is based on prejudices associated with skin colour and is experienced on a daily basis by BIPOC people (black, indigenous and people of colour) in a disproportionate way when they are behind the wheel. Justice Yergeau explains: "Experienced as a stigma by black communities, it (racial profiling) marks both the hearts and minds of their members who perceive early in life that the law does not apply to them as it does to others and that freedom is not guaranteed in the same way depending on whether one is black or white.”. Joseph-Christopher Luamba, a student who, during 2019, was arrested three times without any real reason and without ever receiving a ticket, is at the origin of the complaint. During the trial, 12 other witnesses (all black citizens), told the court about similar experiences. One pattern is clear: on many occasions, witnesses pass a police car and often make eye contact with the officers in the vehicle. The latter would pull up behind the black driver's car (sometimes even turning around in the middle of the street) and intercept them moments later. Witnesses, in addition to their skin colour and shared trauma, are rarely given a ticket and if they are given one, it is often following a vocal displeasure or questioning of the officers.
These testimonies and the voluminous literature (case studies, statistics, trends) filed in evidence allowed the Superior Court of Quebec to rule that traffic stops without real grounds will now be prohibited. "The rule of law authorizing roadside interceptions without real grounds, within the meaning of this judgement, violates the rights guaranteed by sections 7 and 9 and subsection 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms without being justifiable in a free and democratic society and is therefore invalid,” Justice Yergeau's judgement states that the judgement also "declares the common law rule established by R. V. Ladouceur,  1 S.C.R. 1257 and section 636 of the Highway Safety Code to be inoperative.” The provincial police forces have six months to comply with this decision and to make the necessary changes to their procedures and intervention protocols.
In Gatineau, this decision is well received. Although the Service de police de la Ville de Gatineau (SPVG) mentions that it must wait for certain orientations from the ministère de la Sécurité publique, Mariane Leduc, who is responsible for communications and community relations at the SPVG, explained to the Post that this ruling is in line with the SPVG's policies: "On behalf of the management [...], I would like to reiterate that we take this ruling very seriously and that we are in communication with all our provincial partners through various committees.” As for the practices of the SPVG, she noted, "Ethnocultural, social and sexual profiling is not tolerated under any circumstances. Therefore, any police officer or civilian employee who engages in profiling or inappropriate or discriminatory language or actions will face the consequences. [...] All our police officers have recently received training on police stops in which they are taught that stops must be based on grounds, and that, consequently, the tools and powers at their disposal must always be used wisely in order to fight crime and make our roads and communities ever safer.”
Also contacted by the Post, Tiffany-Lee Norris Parent, municipal councillor for the district of Touraine and president of the Commission du vivre-ensemble de Gatineau, had nothing but good things to say about the Court's decision: "It's clear that the issue of racial profiling is a concern here in Gatineau, as it should be everywhere else," she said. "These are practices or reflexes that we cannot tolerate, but which unfortunately still exist, and in this sense, any step that allows us to progress is welcome. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I am encouraged by the openness of the SPVG to improve its practices, to better train police officers, etc." As for the impact of this judgment on Gatineau's services, the councillor mentioned that she is working with her colleague Olive Kamanyana (Carrefour-de-l'Hôpital district) to review the hiring and selection procedures for members within the City in order to better represent Gatineau's diversity. She also notes the first diversity training offered to elected council members with her colleague Bettyna Bélizaire (Plateau district). "What I take from this is that it reinforces a message. We recognize that there are problems and practices to change in our institutions, and we are tackling them. It's true in the police department; it's true in the City”, concluded Tiffany-Lee Norris Parent.
Photo credit: Sonia Roy
Photo caption: Tiffany-Lee Norris Parent, Touraine District Councillor and Chair of the Commission du vivre-ensemble favours the new ruling by superior court that bans traffic stops without reason.