Racial profiling trial debates power of Quebec police to make random car stops

Joseph-Christopher Luamba said Monday in a Montreal court that when he sees a police car while driving, he begins to prepare to pull over.

In the 18 months since getting his driver’s license in March 2018, Luamba said he was stopped by police around 10 times for no reason. He said he was driving a car for about half of the stops and was a passenger in someone else’s car during the other police stops.

These traffic checks are at the heart of a lawsuit he has brought against the Canadian and Quebec governments, which began Monday in a Montreal courtroom.

Luamba, who is black, said he believed he had been racially profiled during traffic stops – none of which resulted in a ticket – and that he is seeking a common law rule that allows police to arrest drivers for no reason to be declared unconstitutional.

“I was frustrated,” he told the court. “Why was I arrested? I followed the rules, I didn’t commit any offences.”

Luamba, 22, said he was nervous during interactions with police.

Lawyers for Luamba and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which has intervenor status in the case, told Superior Court Judge Michel Yergeau that the police’s power to randomly stop drivers, outside of drink-driving checkpoints, is unconstitutional and enables racial profiling.

Mike Simeon, who represents Luamba, said during his opening arguments that the situation has changed since the Supreme Court of Canada, in a 1990 decision, upheld the power of the police to carry out random traffic stops. Racial profiling is now recognized as a serious problem, he said.

“A growing number of studies, reports, clearly show us the magnitude of the problem,” Simeon said.

He said the arrests violate the right not to be detained and the right to know why one is being detained.

In several incidents, Luamba said, the police did not tell him why they arrested him until they were ready to let him go.

Simeon said black people, especially young black men, are more likely to be targeted by random stops than others.

Luamba said that when he told his friends about police interactions, his black friends told him they were used to random stops, while white friends were “astounded” by how often he was stopped.

“For some people, it’s completely unheard of to be arrested for no reason,” he said.

Lawyers for the Canadian and Quebec governments argued that the Supreme Court was right to uphold the rule allowing random stops, which they say is an important tool in combating drunk driving.

Ian Demers, a lawyer representing the Attorney General of Canada, said the federal government is aware that racial profiling exists and that legal means exist to combat it. He said the power to make random stops is not intended to enable racial profiling.

Luamba testified that he was arrested both while driving and as a passenger in vehicles driven by black friends. Four judgments were included in Luamba’s first court documents.

Under cross-examination by Quebec government lawyer Michel Deom, Luamba said that each time he was stopped driving, he was in a vehicle belonging to someone else or in a rental car. He said that on each of these occasions, the police accepted his explanation of why he was driving someone else’s car and let him go after a few minutes.

Deom asked Luamba how many times he had been stopped while driving a car he owned, and Luamba said he had been stopped three times for speeding. Luamba owned his own car between August 2020 and August 2021.

The trial, which is expected to last a month, continues on Tuesday.

(Radio Canada)

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