Pradel Content Laval police Quebec racial profiling

Racial profiling victim angry over Laval police officer’s 18-day suspension

“You’re lucky to live in Quebec… they shoot people like you in Florida.” This is what Laval’s Pradel Content was told by a police officer following a violent arrest for driving while Black.

“You’re lucky to live in Quebec… they shoot people like you in Florida.”

That statement made by a Laval police officer was part of a much more extensive racial profiling complaint filed by Laval resident Pradel Content back in 2017. Five years later, the accused officer, Michaël Boutin, has been suspended by Quebec’s Police Ethics Commission for 18 days without pay. A suspension, the victim says, is deeply inadequate considering the severity of the police officer’s combined actions. 

“I feel like I’m in the twilight zone,” says Content. “18 days? That’s repugnant.”

Driving while Black 

In 2017, Pradel Content, a then 39-year-old Black man with a physical disability, was driving home at 10:30 a.m. in his Cadillac Escalade when a Laval police car drove by and quickly made a U-turn to tail him. No stranger to unjustified police stops, Content, who had lived for years in South Florida, drove into a gas station, came out of his car and used his cell phone to film the police car, which suddenly reversed and drove towards him. The police officer immediately jumped out of his car and rushed towards Content, slapped the phone out of his hands, violently threw him against his vehicle and proceeded to handcuff him without informing him of the grounds of his arrest.

Officer Boutin and his partner then proceeded to repeatedly threaten and verbally harass Content. “They immediately asked me why I was driving this car,” he says. “What kind of question is that? Why shouldn’t I be driving an expensive car? Am I not allowed as a Black man to drive a nice car?”

Multiple incidents of racial profiling 

Content tells me that baseless police stops have become routine for him. “I moved back to Quebec in 2012 and the very same day I drove my Escalade downtown I was pulled over three times in less than 30 minutes,” he tells me. “I’ve been living this for years… the combination of my skin colour and the fact that I drive nice cars always results in me being stopped. When it starts happening three to five times a week, you decide that something has got to give, and I bought a Dash Cam and I started recording back.” 

When the officer told Content that he was lucky to live in Quebec since ‘they shoot people like him in Florida’, Content says he felt so condescended to and mocked, “like [the officer] was telling me ‘my life isn’t worth shit.’” 

The Laval resident, who often walks with a cane because of a previous car accident, was also told that his disability was “only in his head.” After forcing Content to unlock his phone, the police officers searched for and erased video recordings, and issued a fine of $127 for using a telephone while driving. 

Two months later, Boutin filed a report at the urging of his superior officer, in which he falsely stated that Content was associated with street gang members. 

“I have nothing to do with gangs,” Content tells me. “I think that was the part that offended me the most. I was livid. You’re falsifying information based on zero proof and accusing me of being a gang member? Why? Because I’m Black, because I have dreads, because I have an expensive car?”

Content willingly acknowledges that there are plenty of good cops out there, but those who act like Boutin are on a power trip and should be reined in. “If you’re a firefighter and you show up and throw gasoline on the fire, you’re going to get fired, right?” he says. “How do police officers who escalate situations by verbally or physically abusing people or downright lying about them get to keep their jobs?”

Smile, you’re on camera

Content might have been unable to prove the incident had taken place if not for a stroke of luck and some quick thinking on his part. His violent arrest was captured by the gas station’s video, and Content was able to obtain it, providing visual proof corroborating his statement and making his complaint more credible. 

With the help of Montreal-based Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) Content filed a complaint with the Police Ethics Commissioner and the Quebec Human Rights Commission. In October 2020, three and a half years after the incident, the Commission concluded that Content was a victim of “racial profiling based on race, colour, gender and language” and that he was discriminated against based on disability. It asked the City and the two officers to pay him $24,000. The case is now before the Human Rights Commission.

But Content doesn’t see the punishment fitting the crime. 

Despite his defence asking for an 85-day suspension, Quebec’s Police Ethics Committee suspended officer Michaël Boutin for 18 days without pay for the 2017 incident. 

“My heart dropped when I heard the sentence,” Content says. “It’s simply not enough.”

Even though the committee was able to rely on the gas station video to attack the officer’s credibility and severely blamed him for having “exaggerated the facts (…) and [showing] a lack of sensitivity towards Content for acts of racial discrimination and profiling, the gravity of which is ‘evidently high’” and for having made “false and inexact” affirmations in a report two months after the event, in which it linked Content to street gangs, the Committee imposed only 33 days of suspension without pay, while the Commissioner requested 85. Due to the concurrent or consecutive nature of these sanctions, the net total of days of suspension without pay imposed on the Laval police officer was a mere 18 days.

“It’s a slap on the wrist,” Content tells me. “I’m glad he was suspended without pay, because a suspension with pay is just a vacation, but how is a measly 18-day suspension supposed to dissuade other bad cops from doing the same?” 

“He did everything wrong that a police officer could do wrong and the only reason he was suspended and I’m liable to win this case is because I went to the gas station and got that footage. If I didn’t have that footage, I would have lost.”

Exposing systemic racism

Fo Niemi, Executive Director and co-founder of CRARR, says the decision of the Police Ethics Committee is important because “it recognizes the gravity of two things: racial profiling on the part of the officer, and that he filed a false report upon the instructions of his superior, falsely linking him to gang members.” Niemi agrees, however, that the sanctions are insufficient.  

“Especially for the erasure of video evidence and the filing of a false report,” he says. “The Ethics Commissioner asked for 30 days for that alone, stating that such conduct violates qualities of honesty and integrity required of police officers.” 

Almost five years later, the sentence brings some closure, but the case is still before the Quebec Human Rights Commission. Content remains determined to keep fighting. “I see a lot of denial of systemic racism here, starting with the government,” says Content. 

“But this kind of racial profiling, this kind of systemic abuse of power happens a lot, and too many victims don’t say anything and let it slide. But it’s important that we expose it, it’s important that the media talk about it,” he says. “People need to know that it happens.”

When I ask him what he hopes comes from the Human Rights Commission, he says it’s not really about the money. 

“I’m not asking for more,” Content says. “I’m asking for justice.” ■

Read more editorials by Toula Drimonis here.