The association of Italian-Canadian Jurists of Quebec held a captivating conference with a list of exceptional guest speakers that sat down to discuss systemic racism and racial profiling. At this conference, lawyers, Red Coalition founders, and a retired judge from the Supreme Court of Canada came to gather around this very subject. This comes at a time when a judicial battle continues to be fought against racial profiling as a consequence of systemic racism.
One of the lawyers presenting, Julius Grey, explained that these system-level issues are created by an unconscious development of racial prejudices that allow inequalities to be bred in our institutions. Grey explains that when people are blinded by identity, collective consciousness overthrows individual rights. Policies that discriminate against minority interests have been contested in the past, however, laws which are passed and agreed upon by the majority, are proven difficult to go up against.
Further presenters talked about the various existing obstacles when contesting the constitutionality of provincial laws. They discussed how racial preference and nationalistic ideals have created inequalities for Quebec minorities. Lawyer Frédéric Bérard highlighted that fighting against explicitly racist laws is not an adequate solution to racism in Quebec. Rather, addressing racism on a systematic level would target institutions that neglect to address prejudices that form and create racial inequalities.
One judiciary case, that is particularly exemplary of how the legal system reacts to societal changes, is the Luamba decision which questions the legality of police officers who pull over drivers without probable cause. As there is no law banning police officers from stopping drivers at random, police officers can racially profile Canadians that are pulled over without legal cause. Honourable Louis Lebel, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, explained the dynamic of the relationship between court precedence and our ever-changing society. Judge Lebel describes the legal system as being tortured between needing stability and change. The ‘stare decisis’, a precedent created by Canadian courts, are challenged based on new social issues that question the validity of previous decisions. The Luamba decision, explained by lawyer Mike Simeon, expresses the new reality of targeted arbitrary police stoppings. Police officers are allowed to stop at random any vehicle , which creates opportunities for racial profiling to occur. If this decision finds its way to the Canadian Supreme Court and is upheld, police across Canada would need probable cause when ordering a vehicle to be pulled over.
Honourable Marlene Jennings, President of Red Coalition, Joel De Bellefeuille, and director Alain Babineau discussed the daily and recurring realities of racial discrimination and how this manifests itself systemically. Mr. Babineau focused on how racial profiling targets Black Canadians, where officers can abuse their power to stop and search drivers, revealing both explicit and subliminal prejudicial attitudes. He highlighted how racial profiling is systematically embedded in the association of race to crime by showing extensive examples of racial profiling leading to damaging accusations. He goes on to describe how Black Canadians have been targets of racial profiling by showing real life examples of systemic racism. Canadian institutions are upheld by rules and practices which do not address implicit racial biases, and therefore injustices are produced in systematic ways.
The conference was not limited to these speakers; many more skilled and informative people took the stage to further discuss implications and concerns with racial profiling in Quebec. The concurring theme is the need to continue the discourse, educate these agents of justice to evolve, and acknowledge societal changes. As per Justice Lebel, the law is a living organism that evolves in sync with social values.