What was supposed to be a fun night for Majiza Philip and her roommate Shane in 2014 turned into a broken arm and months of depression and anxiety after they were arrested by Montreal police officers.
Today, nearly eight years later, the City of Montreal has reached an out-of-court settlement with Philip after it filed a $700,000 civil lawsuit against the municipality and police officers Éric Sabourin and Steve Thibert.
An email from a city spokeswoman confirmed that Philip would receive just under $95,000. His case was due in court in April.
It’s a huge relief for the 33-year-old woman.
“It’s a weird feeling to be happy for something so traumatic in my life. I guess getting a result like this is a beautiful thing,” Philip said. “But there’s still this reality of what happened to me.”
What happened to Philip is something she won’t soon forget.
Philip and his friend went to a rap concert at a downtown Montreal concert hall in November 2014. After the show, officers arrested his friend for being drunk in public and placed him in the back of a police car.
Philip tapped on the window of the police car to tell her that she would meet him at the police station with his coat and his belongings.
It was then that officers claimed that Philip had tried to break the window of the cruiser trying to free O’Brien. Three officers arrested her, breaking her left arm in the process. She now has a long scar after surgery to repair the injury.
Months later, while filing a complaint with the Police Ethics Commission, Philip learned to her surprise that she was facing charges in municipal court for assaulting police officers and obstructing the justice.
Judge Katia Mouscardy acquitted her of all charges, casting doubt on the officers’ version of events during the 2017 trial.
“The evidence heard for the prosecution gives the impression that an attempt was made to cover up an intervention that went wrong,” she wrote in her judgment. “The multiple contradictions and omissions in the police testimony force the Court to question their willingness to tell honestly what happened with Philip.”
“Every day I see a six inch scar on my arm, and I think about it.”
Philip believes the officers treated her differently that night in 2014 because she is black.
She says she still lives with the memories, feeling anxious when she sees police or hears a siren. She says she struggles to explain what happened to the curious 7-year-olds she teaches tap dancing to, when they ask about the scar on her arm.
“I teach quite a few white kids, and so it’s actually a very tricky thing to talk about because they’re looking at me with so much hope and love,” Philip said.
“And for me to tell them that, you know, ‘I was assaulted by an officer’, they can’t really understand it at that age. And then when they ask me why, I’m like ‘I don’t know why I can’t tell you why.
“So this is a strange experience of a lifetime, a trauma that I’m going to deal with [for] the rest of my life.”
The city may be more willing to settle matters
Philip’s attorney says he doesn’t know why the city decided to settle with his client. But Max Silverman thinks the evidence in favor of Philip was overwhelming and that may have played a part.
This is the second case in recent days that the city has settled involving police and a black person, and where racial profiling was raised as a contributing factor to the actions of the officers involved.
Last week, it was announced that Montreal had settled with the family of Pierre Coriolan, a 58-year-old black man who was shot dead by police in 2017.
“I can’t speak to the motivations inside the city,” Silverman said.
“But there seems to be a new trend in the way the city is handling these [cases]which, as you know, the citizens and residents of Montreal can only see as a good thing, that they take these issues seriously and treat the survivors of police violence with respect, dignity and care their records deserve. »
Fo Niemi of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) in Montreal has been working with Philip on this file since his arrest.
He says it was a responsible decision on the part of the city to settle and avoid a costly lawsuit at taxpayer expense. But more importantly, he thinks it could signal a new way of dealing with racialized communities.
“The city, in the sense of saying there is something very wrong with the way the police interact with ordinary citizens, especially racialized citizens, that results in serious injury or death,” Niemi said. .
“The city may be taking a new approach to resolving this situation and hopefully building a new bond of trust with black and other racialized groups in the city.”
Niemi says he knows of other cases involving the City, either before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal or before the courts, where the City seems willing to settle.
Philip says the years since that encounter with the police have been difficult. But she feels stronger.
“I’ve been in such a cloud for so long, and it’s a process,” she said. “I feel like I’m definitely going to come out on the right side.”
Philip’s complaint and subsequent appeal to the Quebec Police Ethics Commission were dismissed.
The city of Montreal and the city’s police department, the Service de police de la Ville de Montreal, both declined to comment on the case.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.