MONTREAL — A black man says he's taking on Quebec police because he doesn't want his children -- or anyone else -- to have their nationality questioned as a result of their skin colour. "You can't have this happen," Joel Debellefeuille said in an interview Wednesday.
Debellefeuille was pulled over in July 2009 near Montreal, by a member of the Longueuil police force. When he glanced later at the police report, he discovered the reason the officer had pulled over his BMW: his Quebecois name apparently didn't match his skin tone.
At the time he was stopped, Debellefeuille was with his wife, step-daughter and two other family friends, all of whom are white.
The suburban father says he finally saw the report when he was in court last month to fight a $438 ticket for not showing his identification to a peace officer.
In the report, the officer explains why he pulled the man over: "Debellefeuille is a Quebecois name and not of another origin."
Longueuil police would not immediately comment on the allegations by Debellefeuille, who is taking the matter to Quebec's human rights commission and police ethics board.
"We treat everyone the same," said Const. Dominic Arseneault. He confirmed Longueuil police do not have policies on racial profiling or dealing with visible minorities.
Racial profiling has been a hot-button issue in Canada for years, affecting most big city police forces such as Toronto and Montreal.
Calgary police recently had a drug case thrown out when a judge ruled they had targeted a black man in a sting because of his colour.
This week, a federal Liberal candidate was forced to back down after she suggested on her Twitter page that she had seen examples of racism by the Calgary police. Opponents had called for her dismissal.
Debellefeuille, the manager of a freight transport company, said he felt insulted by police and that they couldn't justify their reasons for stopping him.
One officer wanted to know if he was the car's actual owner. The other officer said they'd seen his wife throw a cigarette butt from the car -- even though no one was smoking in the vehicle.
Debellefeuille said he would only provide his identification to a supervisor because he felt one of the officers was rude to him and did so when the superior officer arrived.
Debellefeuille said even the supervisor disappointed him when he checked his papers.
He says the supervisor told him, "'Mr. Bellefeuille, it's a privilege to drive a vehicle here in Quebec. When an officer asks you to show them your ID, you're supposed to show it.
"'If it had been me that stopped you, I would have put your *** in jail tonight. You're lucky'."
The police said they would send him tickets in the mail. The police also ticketed him for having expired insurance although Debellefeuille didn't fight that $52 fine because it was justified. His insurance had run out two days earlier.
The judge hearing the ticket case said he would rule in September.
Fo Niemi, executive director of Quebec's Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, said it's unfortunately somewhat common to have police stop black men because they're suspicious about their name.
"What's uncommon is the police officer wrote that reason in the police report."
CRARR helped Debellefeuille draft his complaints to the human rights commission and police ethics board, alleging racial profiling, discriminatory and abusive policing through an unjustified stop, rude behaviour and an unjust fine.
"How many (reports) have these people written that are similar to this or worse than this?" Debellefeuille said Wednesday, adding he can't believe a supervisor likely approved it.
"It's clearly unacceptable."
Debellefeuille said the incident is driving him and his family "nuts." He said he was humilitated in front of his family and now is reliving the whole incident again.
Besides seeking $30,00 in damages, he wants to see changes in the way the police deal with visible minorities and see policies put in place. He said his wife is due to give birth soon and he wants his children to know their dad stood up for something.
And having information that they regularly profile people based on their race/skin color but don't normally put that down in writing says a lot.
Was he speeding or driving recklessly or did they just pull him over because he was simply black?
Chucking a cigarette butt out the window seems to be a pretty poor excuse, especially if they can't prove someone in the car smokes (ie: can cough up a pack of smokes somewhere in the car)