A study that analyzed 31,845 tickets issued for public health offenses by Quebec police during the first 15 months of the pandemic found that there was a higher concentration of fines in some of the most diverse Montreal.
According to a report released Monday by the Profiling Observatorya group from the University of Montreal focused on profiling.
“In Montreal, we are at 11,000 tickets until June 2021, so we can clearly see that it is a political choice to choose to punish and it is a choice that has serious consequences on individuals and on the judicial systems. said Jacinthe Poisson, a researcher at the Observatory.
COVID-19 measures have been applied in a punitive manner in Montreal, she said.
“The police and judicial over-commitment, which stems from a political choice in the province, is all the more worrying when we see that the people who have gone to court are often those who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods with strong multi-ethnicity. composition or in certain indigenous communities generally located near urban areas,” the report said.
The report says 377 tickets were issued to people who reside in Indigenous communities.
On average, there were 326.5 tickets per 100,000 inhabitants in Quebec, but this number climbs to around 513 in Montreal and 479 in Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
The number is skyrocketing in more specific areas like Outremont which had 1,173 tickets served per 100,000 residents with a large portion of those issued for gatherings at places of worship, according to the report.
Other Montreal neighborhoods with rates per 100,000 population include:
- Ville-Marie: 752.8.
- Plateau-Mont-Royal: 695.6.
- Montreal North: 647.7.
- Lachine: 609.5.
- Villeray-St-Michel-Parc-Extension: 572.7.
During the five-month curfew, nearly 57% of tickets issued in Quebec were for violating the curfew. Another 17.5% of tickets were for gatherings in private residences and 15.2% for gatherings in public.
While thousands of tickets are disputed, several measures have been taken jointly with different partners to avoid the stay of proceedings due to delays, said a spokesperson for the prosecution, the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions.
“We continue to monitor this situation closely and are making efforts to put in place the measures required to effectively manage the criminal caseload, which includes tickets issued pursuant to the Public Health Act,” said Patricia Johnson. .
She said a total of 37,311 tickets were issued between April 20, 2020 and April 30, 2022.
Punitive approach created burden, lawyer says
The League of Rights and Freedoms (LDL) calls for an independent body to look into the management of the health emergency.
The organization’s president, Alexandre Pierre, said researchers could only work with available data, including type of offense and place of residence.
This geographic data can be compared to previous studies of the ethnic, economic and racial makeup of each region, she said.
“If we gather the data before and [the new] data, we could come to the conclusion that there is racial profiling involved,” said Pierre. “Many fines were issued in very specific areas.
She said there was no data to prove that curfews and other punitive public health measures are an effective tool to fight a pandemic, but this level of enforcement has created a substantial financial burden for many. people.
“Quebec’s punitive approach was not the right one,” Pierre said. “It was neither cost-effective nor science-based.”
Homeless population issued tickets
The report draws particular attention to the 275 tickets issued to people who listed a homeless shelter as their home address. Poisson said 99 of those tickets were for curfew violations, even though homeless people were supposed to be exempt.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Public Security, Louise Quintin, said the ministry had twice passed on information to police services regarding interventions with vulnerable people.
“The police applied the rules enacted under the Public Health Act with diligence and discernment and were able to show a certain tolerance when they considered that the situation required it,” Quintin said.
“Although the homeless have been excluded from the curfew measure, they have not been exempted from complying with all other health measures aimed at protecting the entire population during the health crisis.”
David Chapman, chief executive of homeless organization Resilience Montreal, said people would come to the center very stressed about their $1,500 ticket.
He agrees with the report when he says there have probably been more than 275 tickets issued to homeless people in Montreal because people can give the home address of a friend or relative. He said he has heard of people receiving tickets when staying with friends rather than a shelter.
He said there could be instances where people did not clearly explain their housing situation to officers. On the other hand, he said, the police may not be checking life statuses well enough.
“Clearly something went wrong in the application here. The question is, what exactly?” Chapman said. “It’s really hard to imagine what it is.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Montreal police department says officers have always been instructed to exercise judgment, discernment, compassion and tolerance.
During the curfew, officers worked in “support mode” on a case-by-case basis while collaborating with local partners and referring people to community resources, the statement said.
“Additionally, in some circumstances, officers have themselves transported homeless people to emergency shelters,” the statement said.
Homeless people were not targeted, but tickets were issued if someone was violent, blatantly disobeyed health measures or was uncooperative, the statement said.