I see quorum. This is meeting number 11 of the Public Safety and National Security Committee.
As witnesses, we have with us as today, Alain Babineau, a retired RCMP officer and social justice advocate.
We also welcome Mr. Patrick Roy and Mr. Éric Roger from the Sherbrooke Police Department.
I'm going to ask Mr. Babineau to start for seven minutes, followed by the officers from Sherbrooke.
It works a bit easier if at around the five-minute mark, you look up at me. I will give you an indication of the time. I don't wish to cut you off, but it will give you an opportunity to complete your remarks.
Mr. Babineau, you have the floor for seven minutes.
Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to appear today. My name is Alain Babineau. I'm a law enforcement and social justice advocate. I also have over 30 years' experience with law enforcement, 28 of which were with the RCMP.
I'm here this afternoon to talk to you about systemic racism and discrimination in policing and what I think needs to be done to purge the profession of these.
Systemic racism far too often rears its ugly head in policing in two different ways. First, in the way in which we deliver police services to BIPOC communities, and second, in the way police services often treat their own few racialized officers.
First of all, I believe that law enforcement protects the foundation of our society and that every action it poses touches a life in a significant way, positively or negatively. As trust in police also defines the extent to which members of the public view the police as legitimate, if police lose public confidence, it can compromise their ability and authority to work effectively.
Secondly, I believe that whether the public's decreased confidence in policing is caused by the behaviour of so-called individual bad apples or organizational recklessness and apathy in dealing with those bad apples, these issues negatively affect trust in the police, particularly among the most vulnerable communities.
In spite of the 1999 R. v. Brown decision by the Ontario Superior Court, which identified the racial profiling concept of “driving while Black”, and the 2019 judicial recognition by the Supreme Court of the notion of systemic racial profiling in the R. v. Le decision, the issue of racial profiling by law enforcement remains arguably one of the most highly contested topics of conversation in criminal justice today.
Internal systemic discrimination has been part of policing organizations for decades, and cannot be addressed unless identified clearly. Senator Murray Sinclair said:
Some people believe that systemic racism is when everybody in the system is a racist and there is no system where everybody is a racist.
He clarified, though:
Systemic racism is when the system itself is based upon and founded upon racist beliefs and philosophies and thinking and has put in place policies and practices that literally force even the non-racists to act in a racist way.
In 2019, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians annual report revealed that resistance to diversity and inclusion is strongest among the non-commissioned officer rank from which the future officers are drawn.
As commissioned officers are decision-makers and leaders in policing, this information is very concerning to me. During my 30 years in law enforcement, and since George Floyd's death, I've spoken to enough BIPOC officers to know that what I personally experienced and witnessed during my service is reflective of the experience of many with systemic discrimination within their respective organizations.
We must keep in mind that in policing, possibly more than any other field, the possession of social capital is essential. In this culture, trust, norms and networks approved by the dominant group, and those who hold the key to success determine who achieve advancement through the organization. Consequently, because of the lack of critical numbers, BIPOC members struggle with acquiring social capital.
To be fair, I must say that over the years, in an attempt to respond to the realities of diversity, police services have adopted policies, initiatives and practices to reflect community representation. However, in my opinion and that of many visible minority police officers, it is easy to see the gap between the adoption of diversity policies and their actual implementation within organizations.
While some individual human rights complaints contained descriptions of behaviour that reflect a racist workplace culture, during an investigation the dots are not usually connected, and an underlying pattern of systemic discrimination is not identified.
From my experience with the Quebec Human Rights Commission, the police ethics commissioner, as well as the Canadian Human Rights Commission, those agencies are far too often either unable or unwilling to investigate complaints of race or systemic discrimination in a meaningful way. As a result, those agencies perpetuate the problem of systemic racism in policing.
With respect to police unions, historically BIPOC officers have not felt heard by them. For example, RCMP's fledging National Police Federation, which does not have a single BIPOC member on its board, essentially attacked the commissioner last summer when she finally recognized the existence of systemic racism in the RCMP.
However the NPF is not alone. Right across Canada police unions have rapidly been rejecting the existence of any form of systemic discrimination within their particular service. As a result, various iterations of backlash have been filed by BIPOC officers right across the nation.
As I mentioned throughout my remarks, systemic discrimination on the ground and inequalities within the police are deeply linked to a history of exclusion and prejudice. From an anti-discrimination perspective, there is an urgent need to examine the policies, practices and behaviours that encourage, condone and tolerate discrimination in any police organization.
Based on a previous lack of meaningful effort in the area of employment equity and policing, the federal government now has an opportunity to direct meaningful cultural changes in the RCMP so that it becomes an example for all other police services in this country to follow.
With respect to racial profiling, I believe that the federal government must also take the lead and pass an anti-racial profiling law. A proposed bill was tabled by the NDP in 2005, but it died in the end because of the federal election.
Ladies and gentlemen, with respect to eradication of systemic racism in policing, I say to you, “If not now, then when”.
I am Inspector Patrick Roy, manager of the Équipe mobile d'intervention psychosociale, the mobile psychosocial intervention team, or ÉMIP. I am accompanied by Sergeant Éric Roger, field supervising sergeant on the same team.
The work of our intervention team in the field is more related to mental health than to systemic racism. Of course, there may be some overlap on the street when police are involved, but our presentation is, in essence, about mental health.
Our organization has some 300 employees for a population of 170,000 people. We are located one hour and 15 minutes from Montreal. In 2015, like all police organizations in Quebec and across Canada, I imagine, we had to deal with an emerging mental health-related phenomenon in the field. Police officers had to face this, even though they were neither mental health experts nor social workers.
At the same time, the Centre intégré universitaire de santé et de services sociaux de l'Estrie also noticed the emergence of a problematic situation on the streets. In 2015, we therefore decided to unite the forces of the police service and the hospital in order to create a joint unit in each patrol vehicle, that is to say a police patrol officer and a social worker.
We were inspired by the model that already existed at the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal at the time, namely the Équipe de soutien aux urgences psychosociales, ÉSUP, the psychosocial emergency support team. In 2015, our project got under way. You should know that in 2015, our patrollers were each spending seven hours a day on the streets to deal with mental health management. At that time, this tool became a must.
In 2016, the mobile outreach team was made up of a joint social worker and police patrol officer, operating two nights a week. As this initiative proved successful, in 2017 the presence of the mixed team was increased to three nights a week, and in 2018, to four nights a week. In 2018, our organization realized that our police officers were shifting from 7 to 14 work hours per day spent on mental health management, despite the team in the field.
In 2018, we were answering approximately 1,400 mental health-related calls per year; our mixed team on four nights a week answered 263 of those calls. That's when we decided, once again, to make a major organizational shift and appoint five police officers, five full-time resources, to manage mental health, seven days a week, seven nights a week. The social workers are still with us four nights a week. The rest of the time and slots are filled by police officers who have become mental health specialists rather than generalists.
The mission of the joint team and our police officers is simple: to promote multidisciplinary collaboration and support police work when dealing with people in crisis or whose mental state is disrupted, in order to facilitate their access to adapted services, whether in the areas of justice, health or community support.
Once our five resources were appointed, we established their roles and responsibilities. They are not social workers, and the leadership for health is not with the police service; it is with health. Whether we are talking about a police officer, a social worker, a doctor, or you in your families, we have to recognize that the number of people with mental health problems is increasing and we need to treat them. These people are not suspects to the police community; they are individuals. They become people, men and women, whom we need to guide rather than send to the judicial system. Prosecution is not necessarily the best tool.
Therefore, the role of these police officers, these five permanent police officers, is to support the generalist patrol officers in the application of laws and regulations related to persons whose mental state is disturbed; to take ownership and manage specific recurring cases; to analyze, plan and coordinate all requests for intervention related to treatment orders from the Commission d'examen des troubles mentaux or from various courts in Quebec, in order to proceed with the enforcement of orders, in collaboration with social workers.
Their role is also to support the management of runaways and missing persons with mental health problems; to support general police divisions in the field and the investigation of people who are homeless and suffering from mental health problems; to help police officers obtain requests for orders to bring people for care; to assist health services with complex cases within the territory of the City of Sherbrooke; to represent our organization by sitting on committees; and to publish follow-up reports tracking mental health.
The most important aspect of our organization is that these five officers participate in the development of our generalist police officers through coaching, mentoring, training and awareness.
I will now describe how an intervention proceeds from the moment we receive a call. We receive a call at the 911 emergency centre, and there is a confirmation that it is related to mental health. Our specialist police officers, accompanied by the social worker or not, travel with our generalist police officers to the indicated location. Once the situation is secured, the generalist police officers leave the premises and the specialist police officers take care of the follow-up and supervision of the individuals. Very often, the latter are not suspects.
In addition, these police specialists are trained in de-escalation and are familiar with communication strategies. They are trained in all types of mental health problems so that they can recognize them and then intervene. They also receive training on drugs and psychotic effects. They receive training from the range of health care providers and others, including mental health first aid, to help them target the type of intervention.
Finally, they take part in several committees, including a provincial mental health committee, a mental health-related committee and the regional strategic committee on homelessness. They are part of all focus groups.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for being with us today.
My first question will be directed to representatives of the Sherbrooke Police Department.
A man was killed in an altercation with Montreal police. The man was Sheffield Matthews, a 41-year-old man described by those who knew him as a father who had spent most of his money on his children. He worked in a seniors' residence and had experienced poverty. He was considered a caring, considerate, and hard-working person.
He was someone whom many people from a similar background looked up to as a beacon of hope. He was going through a crisis at the time he was found by police on that morning in NDG. He was shot because he was found wielding a knife, and I guess the policemen who were there felt threatened.
I'd like to know if you can tell us what the protocol would be in such a situation. What should it have been in order for this innocent man, or someone who overall is a good person, to not be shot by people who are there to protect society and to protect citizens? Rather than his being killed at the hands of police, what do you think should have happened in that situation? How can we prevent situations like this from happening again?
This is a very good question.
I can't comment on this particular event because I don't know all the details. The only thing I can tell you is that in Quebec, police officers are not trained to kill someone in order to save their life. Obviously, when a person is suicidal, it is not the police officer's mandate to kill them to save their life.
On the other hand, it is not the mandate of the police officer to be killed by a person who, unfortunately, has mental health problems. I'm not talking about this particular event because I don't have the details. However, if a police officer arrives at the scene of a call, as happened in the case you mentioned, and a person opens the door with a baseball bat and runs at him, he will still have to defend himself with the tools at his disposal depending on the threat. This is the notion of dangerousness. Do we want this? Do we wish for this? No police officer wants to have to do such a thing.
Unfortunately, we are sometimes called upon to react to an aggression. Are there other tools that could be used? Could these calls be directed to a social worker instead of a police officer? Again, the notion of dangerousness is managed by the police, while the crisis and assistance is managed by health services. If health care workers were sent directly to the scene, they would be exposed to accidents.
Police officers are sometimes faced with situations where they have no choice but to intervene to protect themselves or others from a potential assault by a sick person. In Quebec, fundamentally, a police officer is not trained to kill someone in an attempt to save their life.
I can answer in French or English.
First of all, the RCMP has been plagued by systemic racism throughout history. We can go back to the “March West”. We can go back to residential schools, Black activism in Nova Scotia in the 1960s, 911 national security and, lately, racial profiling of Blacks and indigenous people right across Canada, so there's nothing new there.
You can go back to 1941, when you had two Black Nova Scotians who applied to join the RCMP. They were perceived as problems for the RCMP. It was offered to them to write the entrance exam, in the hope that they would fail. Coincidentally, they failed the exam. It wasn't until the 1970s that the RCMP got their first Black member within the organization. There has been a systemic pattern throughout history that cannot be denied.
I'll give you a quick example. For two and a half years when I worked in the RCMP, I assisted a member of the RCMP who was denied promotion on three separate occasions within the same unit that he had been part of for 15 years. The last time he was denied promotion, the person who was promoted was a white individual, and the Black officer had trained that person. Everybody in the unit couldn't believe that this was happening.
What happened is that we filed grievances and we filed for disclosures. Lo and behold, we learned that the decision-maker in that particular case had been disciplined for using racial slurs against Black people in a previous post. This person was put in a decision-making position for a promotional board, and a Black person was a candidate.
Was that person racist? I don't know, but a reasonable person would think that this decision-maker should not have been on that promotional board as a decision-maker. That's part of the systemic discrimination policy that we need to eradicate—
I thank the witnesses for being here.
I'm going to address Mr. Babineau first.
Mr. Babineau, I know that you are a law enforcement analyst. I'm going to continue in the same vein as my colleague Mr. Motz, who spoke earlier about the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
If I understand correctly, the process is not that independent after all. When a member of the public wants to make a complaint, they send their request to the commission, but the commission immediately refers it to the RCMP. That's where a review is done. If the complainant is not satisfied with the RCMP's response, or if the commission is not satisfied with the response, a second review is undertaken. It can take 10 or 15 months—and sometimes longer—before the complainant receives a response. In your view, should the process be more independent?
Given what was described in the Bastarache report, should there also be an independent body for RCMP officers and employees who have suffered damage in the RCMP?
As a complaints manager, I handled complaints that were referred to us by the external committee. These complaints were investigated internally.
In all honesty, I have found that police officers and RCMP members are often harsher on their own colleagues than an outside agency would be. At the same time, there is this perception of independence that needs to be maintained.
I would add that this puts police officers who have to investigate a colleague in a precarious position, because eventually they may find themselves working with that colleague, and even being under his command.
There should be a totally independent body, much like the Police Ethics Commissioner in Quebec or Ontario, who is totally independent. The same should apply to the RCMP.
As I said, there are two parts to this.
The first component deals with racial profiling in all its forms. Certainly there should be a federal anti-racial profiling law that all police forces in the country would be subject to, especially when they want to obtain funding for mental health programs or to fight organized crime, for example.
Police services in Quebec should have an internal policy to counter racial profiling and provide training to police officers, as well as be open to diversity in their workforce. This should be essential if police services want to obtain federal funding to conduct their operations. Otherwise, there will be no real change on this front.
The second area is diversity in policing. Unfortunately, Quebec is the worst province in the country when it comes to diversity; it's shameful. Again, there is a lack of accountability in this regard and it is difficult to recruit members from communities that feel oppressed by police services. So there is a lot of marketing work to be done to get people from these communities to come and work in police services that are traditionally white.
This is an interesting question.
As a Black person, in all spheres of life and in all organizations, you're subject to microaggression on a daily basis. Those are the things you learn to live with, but it stays with you. It could be anything from jokes, to innuendos, to challenging you about recent events to try to find out what your personal opinion would be.
I'll give you a quick example of one time when I was in the drug section in Toronto. In drug units, you play hard and you work hard. You have to be tough-skinned to be a part of those units. I was standing in the middle of a meeting one time where we were planning a drug project in the Jane and Finch area of Toronto, and this member had come from up north. He had spent a number of years in an isolated post. It was his first time in Toronto dealing with different...Black communities, for instance. He was standing there and he said that those niggers are just like those Indians up north.
That is the kind of overall opinion...he was drawing an inference from his experience in dealing with criminality where he was up north. Now he was having to conduct drug enforcement and he was looking at those people as having the same kind of mentality as those he had been exposed to in his previous post.
That was as I was standing right there. It was like I was invisible. Again, it becomes part of the way people express themselves. They stereotype everybody who comes from a particular culture as being potentially involved with criminality. That's the problem.
That's a fair statement.
The refusal to even recognize that it exists is...The same thing happened with those brave women who came forward, initially, to report sexual harassment in the RCMP. They were met with sarcasm and denial. They were even attacked.
Since I've come forward in sharing my experiences, I've been attacked and doubted. People don't believe me. They think I'm making this stuff up. That's the reality we live with in the RCMP.
I'm in contact with police officers right across Canada, from various police organizations, and it's the same in most of the large police organizations. There's this lack of belief that these things exist. Until we get a grip, and recognize there's a problem, we'll have to go through the same process that the female officers had to go through, and are still going through, quite frankly.
The benefit of our mobile psychosocial intervention team's programs is certainly to prevent the revolving door phenomenon, meaning people entering hospitals and leaving immediately. These programs also make it possible to develop police responses that better suit the situations and to increase our organization's expertise.
Here's a very worthwhile point for you. Our mobile team makes it possible to avoid prosecuting people on some occasions. It certainly makes it possible to avoid overprosecuting them. Our team provides an incredible added value.
Moreover, it maximizes the chances that a response will end peacefully. I don't have any figures about the use of force to provide today. However, I can tell you that our police officers in the mobile psychosocial intervention team have conducted about 300 follow-ups on recurring cases in the past year. These are certainly cases for which our organization would have received calls for our general patrol officers to handle. Confrontations could then have occurred.
Someone asked me earlier how to avoid this situation. In our organization, each time we proactively avoid the need for a response involving people with mental health issues, it's significant. By conducting about 300 follow-ups on recurring cases, we certainly have another chance to avoid the use of force. We're sure of this.
Mental health calls have doubled since 2015. However, we've seen a 30% decrease in ambulance transportation. We're avoiding unnecessary hospitalizations.
In short, we're seeing these direct benefits.