The homeless and the police

By Joel Ceausu, May 28th, 2014

A report by a coalition of homeless assistance and advocacy groups says that physical abuse of the homeless by Montreal cops has decreased, while social profiling and verbal abuse persist.
“This study clearly shows that social profiling practices persist,” said Bernard St-Jacques of the Réseau d'aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM), which has regularly documented the relationship between police and the city’s homeless based on findings of 30 different community stakeholders.
Social profiling of homeless people is generally defined as singling out individuals for greater scrutiny or differential treatment based on stereotypes about their habits and use of public space, rather than on reasonable suspicion.
The new report shows physical abuse is down, reported by 88 percent compared to 94 percent in 2012. Ninety-six percent report clients that have been subject to verbal abuse by cops, up from 91 percent in 2012. “What is certain is that the police adopt a language with homeless people that they would never use with other individuals,” said University of Ottawa law professor Marie-Eve Sylvestre.
The RAPSIM document also notes that the homeless were cited for up to a quarter of all violations in the Montreal area between 2005 and 2010, even though they represent less than two percent of the population. Half of those surveyed felt that situation was improving, and Sylvestre recognize that the number of citations is decreasing. “I think there’s a good awareness on the part of police, and the cases of social profiling are increasingly isolated. But we can still see it in the street or on social media. There is some way to go.”
According to 2006 figures, the latest, there are approximately 30,000 homeless people in Montreal.
There was a slight improvement in overall relations between police and the homeless, with 80 percent of organizations interviewed pegging those relations as bad or weak, compared to 85 percent two years ago. “This is still far from acceptable,” says St. Jacques, “and it’s why we hope the police force continues to educate its officers to the reality of the homeless.”
St. Jacques adds that the mechanisms for addressing police conduct should be reviewed so that the complaint process is simplified, shortened and more suited to the vulnerable in keeping with the 2012 recommendations by Quebec’s Human Rights Commission.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents had a negative view of the process, and only very few people file complaints, with 80 percent saying they would if the system improved. The lingering sense of impunity, lack of independence and fear of reprisals remain central concerns.
The RAPSIM report was in response to a study presented by the SPVM to the city’s Public Security Commission that painted a more positive portrait of the relationship between police and the city’s homeless.n

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The homeless and the police