This Guy Is Taking on the Montreal Police’s Racial Profiling Problem

In April 2010, Farid Charles was illegally arrested and the Quebec Human Rights Commission declared it racial profiling. Now Farid is taking a stand, hoping to reopen the discussion about police brutality and race in Montreal.

Jul 8 2014, 7:25pm

Image of Farid Charles via Tumblr.
In April 2010, Montreal high school teacher Farid Charles and his friend Jermaine Fraser went to pick up food. They parked parallel to the restaurant—a Caribbean place in the southern Montreal borough of Lasalle. Jermaine went in to get their order while Farid stayed in the passenger’s seat. Suddenly the driver’s door opened and a head popped in. Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal officer Christopher Brault asked for his license and registration. Charles explained that the car belonged to a friend and that he didn’t have that information. Brault then asked Farid for his ID. Confused, Farid asked under what grounds, and said that he didn’t know what was happening.

According to Farid, Officer Brault walked over to the passenger’s side, opened the door and grabbed him by the shoulder. He asked the officer if he was allowed to open someone’s door like that. Apparently Brault then grabbed the collar of his jacket and tried to tug him out of the car. Brault kept pulling but Farid’s seatbelt was on. Farid removed it, got out of the car, stumbled to his feet and noticed a fist coming toward his face. He dodged Officer Mathieu Boucher-Bacon’s punch but was thrown to the ground, facing the pavement. There was a knee on his head, his arms were thrown behind him, and he was arrested.

While this was going on, the owner of the restaurant and Fraser noticed the commotion and ran out of the restaurant. Fraser explained to the officers that the vehicle was his and they should speak with him. The officers put their hands on their waists and told them to get back. The owner tried to explain that Farid wasn’t a bad guy, and that he’s a teacher, but the officers simply replied, “I don’t care what he is, get back.”

Charles was taken off the floor and moved into the police car, where he was detained for 45 minutes.

As more police cars showed up, the officers went into the car, where Farid was being detained, flipping a book. They were looking to find a charge for him, trying to see what laws he broke. They looked at where the car was parked—it was for emergency parking. But they couldn’t charge him for that—it wasn’t his car. Farid said that they were wasting their time. Officer Brault turned to him and said, “Next time I ask you for ID, you’re gonna think twice about giving it to me,” and handed him a ticket for ‘wandering without a cause.’

Farid Charles filed a complaint to the Quebec Ethics Committee and during a ruling in 2013, the Ethics Committee found officers Christopher Brault and Mathieu Boucher-Bacon guilty of four (out of five) breaches of the Quebec Code of Ethics for Police Officers—all but racial profiling—and they were suspended for 10 days. Farid wasn’t satisfied with the verdict and later took the case to the Human Rights Commission. They concurred that racial profiling was a key element in the illegal arrest, recommending $33,000 in compensation for damages to be paid by June 13 of this year. Charles hasn’t seen a dime. The contradicting verdicts in this case beg the question: Is racial profiling still a problem in Montreal? VICE met up with Farid Charles to discuss his arrest and how to create change in a broken system.

VICE: The story of your arrest was intense. What was your thought process when it was happening?
Farid Charles: I was scared. I didn’t know what’s going to happen. [When they took me into the police car I thought,] ‘Are they going to take me away and beat the shit out of me?’ I didn’t know.

What were you feeling when Officer Brault told you to think twice about refusing to give your ID?
I realized then and there that this wasn’t a police officer representing the law, this was personal. I felt like a second-tier citizen. They dehumanized me, they made me feel like an animal.

Looking back, do you still feel that way?
I keep telling people, they took something away from me that night. They took my freedom. We don’t live in a society of martial law nor a society of slavery where I need my papers to go from one plantation to another.

I wasn’t breaking and entering and if it was about the vehicle, why didn’t they deal with the driver who came out and claimed the car while I was being arrested?

Was he given a ticket for parking illegally?
No. They didn’t ask him for his papers, they didn’t speak to him.

What happened once they let you out of the car?
They gave me a $144 ticket for “wandering without a cause.” It made no sense; I was sitting in a car waiting for food.

Afterwards I left the officers, went into the restaurant bathroom and cried. I felt like shit, my clothes were dirty and my jacket, that I had saved up for, was ripped all the way down the back. I still don’t understand it and what ‘wandering’ means. Can I not go for a jog, what are the restrictions on ‘wandering’?

I’ve been asked if I could go back, would I change anything that I did? I didn’t do anything wrong. I can’t change that I was hungry and went to get food. I was on public property, sitting in the passengers seat, waiting for food. What they did was illegal, they cited gang activity and breaking and entering but their bylaws don’t apply to private property and I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Montreal police car, via WikiMedia Commons.
Has anything like this happened to you before?
I’ve been given tickets for nonsense, things that I have to waste my time and money contesting; things that I have won in court, but this was my tipping point. Our tax dollars go to these guys, and for what? Defending wrongdoing. We’re paying for the abuse we’re enduring. Even now, I’m bothered by the sound of cops.

At what point did you realize that you weren’t going to let this be swept under the rug?
I didn’t sleep that night; I went to work the next morning. When I saw all the kids I teach and they told me about all of the problems they have with the police, that’s when it started to kick in that I can’t allow this to happen. I spoke to a lot of people about it and no one could believe it. I decided it was time to lead by example. Although I’m a very private person and I knew that this would expose my personal life, I knew it was for the right reasons. There’s a lot worse happening to other people and if no one speaks up, it’ll keep happening.

Explain what’s going on with the appeal.
It’s been four years. I have two or three court dates a year. I can’t even remember all of the processes. The media has been saying I was awarded $33,000, but it was a recommendation. The Human Rights Commission gave a recommendation, saying I was racially profiled. They recommended $25,000 from the city, $5,000 from Officer Brault and $3,000 from Officer Boucher-Bacon for damages. They had until June 13 to pay but they didn’t. So now we have to go to another court and do this all over.

That’s a pain in the ass.
It’s not about the money—it’s about the principle. If you go out on the street corner or to the barber shops and you bring up the situation with cops, and ten black people are there, I guarantee you at least six out of ten people have had a negative experience where they’ve been racially profiled. I’ve seen it, since this has happened to me, people come up to me all the time to tell me their stories.

Do you think that all police racially profile?
I believe some individuals with some malicious intent do, or their thought process might be off, and they ruin it for the rest of cops. There’s a flaw in the system that allows the bad police to ruin it for all the police that could be good. This is why we lose faith in the system. The same system that we’re paying to defend us is the same system that’s brutalizing us and hurting us, emotionally and physically. Making us feel like second tier citizens, and we’re not.

Why do you think that the Ethics Committee ruled that there was no racial profiling?
There was five charges, they weren’t found guilty of racial profiling but found guilty of everything else. It doesn’t make logical sense. Everything was done wrong, let’s look at the sequence of events. But if you tell the public it’s racial profiling, you’re telling them that your police officers are racially profiling people. You don’t want to open up that can of worms. It’s dangerous for them, it says that there’s a problem and they need to do something.

What are you hoping to accomplish?
People need to be held accountable. I see cuts in nursing, schools and so forth, and it’s taxpayers’ dollars that are going towards this. Why are we taking money that can be used in better places and giving it to the wrongdoings of police? We need change. We need to have a proactive approach to policing. Let’s take these police and give them the proper training, schooling, let’s build that up between communities instead of defending their wrongdoings.

People also need to speak up. Silence is a silent killer. By not saying anything we’re basically letting the police do whatever they want to do. I think about my daughter, I don’t want her to be racially profiled. I don’t want her to feel like a caged animal. If we start talking about it, it should get something going. It should be a clear deterrent, a clear signal that there is a problem in our police system. Now how do we fix it? Ignoring the problem is only going to make it worse, not only for us, but for our children. It’s not about us anymore; it’s about the younger generation. We need to invest into [proper police training] so that they have a better opportunity and a better future. Racial profiling is getting into the psyche of children, they think “if I’m constantly accused of being bad, then I must be bad,” and it’s not true.

I look back at our forefathers, our ancestral heritage. They didn’t fight for our rights to be taken back now. I’m hoping that this case, along with the cases before mine, set a precedence and gives others the courage to tell their experiences.

Why do you think that this is difficult for our society to grasp, why is change taking so long?
It’s hard to identify with something you’ve never been through. I’m black, you’re white. As much as you give us the same education, the same everything, once we come out of the school system it’s not going to be the same opportunities. People are not going to view you the same way they view me and it’s something that’s evident and something we’ve got to live with.

Racial profiling exists, whether it’s jokes or serious, it does exist. If I walk somewhere, I can feel people looking at me in stores. If someone says something’s missing, they’re not looking at you first; they’re looking at me. I experienced that as early as elementary school, I was one of eight black kids, they weren’t looking at the white kids; they were looking at me.