By Patricia Vasquez, The Concordian (Concordia University)
MONTREAL (CUP) – The Quebec Human Rights Commission has declared Montreal’s homeless victims of social profiling.
The commission has released a report, including 14 recommendations, urging the city to amend two of its bylaws and suggesting its police force restructure its “rigid” standards, which infringe on the province’s Charter of Human Rights, said sociologist Paul Eid, who co-authored the report.
Eid said Montreal’s homeless are often targeted without any legal justification. “This problem is a result of discrimination,” he said. “It’s a dangerous situation because police base their arguments on social perception and prejudices.”
A solution, Eid said, is educating officers about social profiling. “We want to raise awareness, and are asking them to stop targeting the deprived.”
Between 1994 and 2005, homeless in Montreal were slapped with 34,800 tickets, according to data collected by a professor at L’Université de Montréal on behalf of the Quebec Human Rights Commission. The increase over those years amounted to 327 per cent for offences under municipal bylaws, and 69 per cent for offences under the bylaws of the Societé de transport de Montréal.
Amanda Murray, 23, is homeless. She claims she has been victim of abuse from police. “I was asking for change once and got a $200 ticket,” she said. “I think it’s unfair because I need help just like everyone else. They should stop wasting their time with homeless and start taking care of people who are actually dangerous.”
Eid said the social conditions faced by the homeless sometimes forces them to break the law.
The majority of tickets issued to the homeless, according to the commission, were connected with alcohol consumption and public drunkenness, creating a disturbance in a public place and solicitation.
“These are minor, ‘victimless’ offences,” reads the commission report. “In other words, offences that create little or no harm for private or public property or security.”
Montreal Police Service detective Marc Riopel said the force does not agree with the report’s conclusions.
“It is based on information from 2005,” he said. “Since then, we have worked on new approaches and today’s reality does not correspond with what happened in 2005.”
Police action is often a consequence of public demand, Riopel said. “We are tolerant, but last year we received 1,200 calls from citizens complaining about the behaviour of homeless people.”
Caroline Prévost, a social councilor at the homeless shelter La Maison Tangéante, said prejudices won’t change as long as authorities contribute to social profiling.
“These people have no revenue. Our main concern should be to help them find a home, rather than punish them because they have no place to go,” Prévost said.
Police are aware that giving out tickets won’t fix any problems, Ropel said. “But officers are faced with this reality and they have to take action.”