Paul Georges Leroux, a Montreal translator, said that he was riding in a taxi near the centre of the city last October when two men in a second car forced the cab to stop, then rushed toward it brandishing handguns. According to Leroux, he next attempted to flee what appeared to be a holdup attempt. But the two jean-clad men were members of the Montreal Urban Community (MUC) police department—and they allegedly beat him before arresting him as a suspect in a robbery committed at a nearby fast-food outlet. Leroux was quickly cleared of suspicion and released. But he has filed a lawsuit in Quebec Superior Court seeking $3 million in damages from MUC authorities on the grounds that he has suffered severe depression and has been unable to work since his encounter.
Leroux’s lawsuit dramatically illustrates a widely held belief in the 19 Montreal-area communities that the 4,500-member MUC force polices: that many officers are abusive while performing their duties. And last month
the MUC police’s seven-member Complaint Examination Board released a report that strengthened that perception. According to the review board—an advisory body with no power to impose discipline—there were 399 complaints about abusive and ill-mannered behavior by MUC officers in 1986—an increase of 89 grievances over the previous year. Spokesmen for Montreal’s black community in particular say that racist attitudes on the largely white Frenchspeaking force have sparked many of the complaints. Declared lawyer Howard Schnitzer: “Certain members of the force seem to regard blacks with suspicion. When they are looking for a white person, they are far more discerning about who they arrest.”
For his part, MUC Police Chief Roland Bourget maintains that the increase in complaints does not necessarily mean more incidents of police brutality. Indeed, Bourget argues that the complaints reflect public confidence that the department itself will discipline errant officers. But Bourget may have to act quickly. The reason: Quebec Solicitor General Gérard Latulippe is considering giving civilian watchdog bodies the power to punish police officers who flagrantly abuse their authority.
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