A Canadian court has ruled that random traffic stops violate the country’s charter, striking down the “unbounded power” of police in searches that often amount to racial profiling.
A Quebec superior judge ruled on Tuesday that police cannot pull over drivers without cause.
“Racial profiling does exist. It is not a laboratory-constructed abstraction. It is not a view of the mind. It is a reality that weighs heavily on Black communities. It manifests itself in particular among Black drivers of motor vehicles,” wrote justice Michel Yergeau. “Charter rights can no longer be left in thrall to an unlikely moment of epiphany by the police. Ethics and justice must go hand in hand to turn this page.”
Yergeau’s ruling, which he has suspended for six months, invalidates the police power to conduct a “roving random stop”.
The case against the Canadian and Quebec governments was brought by Montreal resident Joseph-Christopher Luamba, who told the court that in the 18 months after he got his driver’s licence in 2018, he was pulled over nearly 10 times for no reason, both as a passenger and a driver.
Luamba, who is Black, said he was never issued a fine or a ticket and the jarring experience has meant he is always ready to pull over whenever he sees a police car.
“This is a significant victory against racial profiling for the many Black, Indigenous and other racialized people who have been disproportionately stopped by police for decades,” said Gillian Moore of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association at a press conference on Wednesday morning. “This decision represents not only the potential for hugely impactful change in Quebec, but also the hope for this change across Canada.”
Yergeau concluded that random traffic stops violated multiple sections of the charter, including section 7, the right to life, liberty and security of the person; section 9, freedom from arbitrary detention or imprisonment; and paragraph 15, which guarantees equal protection.
“The preponderant evidence shows that over time, the arbitrary power granted to the police to carry out roadside stops without cause has become for some of them a vector, even a safe conduit for racial profiling against the Black community,” wrote Yergeau.
The court’s ruling clashes with a 1990 supreme court decision, which found random stops were the only way for police to determine if a driver was impaired or properly licensed.
Yergeau cautioned that his ruling applied narrowly to the random stops and was not a broader statement on systemic racism. Checkpoints to stop and inspect possibly impaired drivers will still be permitted.
A spokesperson for the federal justice minister said the ministry would “take the time to study [the decision]” before commenting. The Quebec government has not indicated if it plans to appeal.