Quebec City police treatment of young Black man 'totally unacceptable,' says lawyer

·4 min read
Quebec City police treatment of young Black man 'totally unacceptable,' says lawyer

One of the young Black people detained by Quebec City police during an intervention early Saturday morning is considering suing the city for the way he was treated, his lawyer told Radio-Canada on Monday.

Pacifique Niyokwizera, 18, was waiting outside the Dagobert nightclub with his friends when the incident took place. A video shows police officers punching him and shoving snow in his face while he lies on the ground.

"It's totally unacceptable that Black people are treated this way," his lawyer Fernando Belton told Radio-Canada.

Belton said his client was especially upset because he hadn't broken any law. "He hasn't been charged, he hasn't been given a ticket," he said.

"He's shaken by what happened," Belton said. "He doesn't understand why he was treated that way by the police officer who arrested him that night."

Belton said he believes this case is a clear incident of racism. "When we talk about racial profiling, you have a perfect example here," he said.

"We don't need a police force analysis to say there was a use of force that was way too exaggerated here."

WATCH | Lawyer Fernando Belton says the incident is a case of racial profiling:

In a video live-streamed on Black comedian Renzel Dashington's Instagram profile, Niyokwizera thanked the public for sharing the video, saying their support gave him strength to sue the police.

"When I saw that, I was reassured right away, I told myself, 'There are people behind me, there are people who [also think] that this type of thing shouldn't continue, shouldn't happen,'" he said.

Premier calls incident 'troubling'

Premier François Legault, speaking to reporters in Charlevoix late Monday afternoon, said he wants to know exactly what happened to Niyokwizera and why.

"Like many Quebecers, I watched the video and it troubled me," Legault said. "I want us to get to the bottom of it. So, if we are able to do it with an internal investigation, we will do that. If it is necessary to go further, we will go further."

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault tweeted that she has asked Quebec Police Ethics Commissioner Marc-André Dowd to look into the event.

Quebec City police Chief Denis Turcotte said in a news conference Sunday that the Service de Police de la Ville de Québec (SPVQ) had identified the officers involved.

He said the police force is investigating what role each of them played to determine whether they should face disciplinary actions.

Turcotte said he won't tolerate any discrimination by SPVQ officers, but said he has confidence in the force.

The SPVQ declined CBC's request for comment on Monday, saying it would not issue any additional comments while the investigation is ongoing.

Group was pepper-sprayed

Jean-Frédérique Laberge, the owner of the nightclub, told Radio-Canada that Niyokwizera's friends had been involved in a quarrel with some other clients right before closing time.

While he said the group at first refused to leave, he said they weren't violent and that Niyokwizera actually came back the next day to apologize.

Police arrived as the establishment was closing. Laberge told Radio-Canada he has never seen such a large police presence in all the other cities where he owns bars.

Kalilou Barry, one of Niyokwizera's friends who was with him on the night of the incident, told Radio-Canada's Tout un Matin that they were waiting for a friend to pick them up outside the nightclub when the police approached them.

He said he thinks the police thought they were up to something because they were in a group and because they were talking to the venue's security, even though they were acting peacefully.

"They came, [said,] 'Move along,'" Barry said. He said his group went to a nearby parking lot, but the police followed them and continued to tell them to leave.

Things escalated when they asked the police officers why they were being told to leave while no one else was, even though there were a lot of people in the area, Barry said.

That's when his group was pepper-sprayed, he said, adding that some of the officers were laughing as it was happening.

Filming the encounter

Niyokwizera started filming the incident and the police detained him and one of the young women from the group.

WARNING | Video of arrest contains graphic images:

Police then put Niyokwizera in a squad car, drove off and then left him a few blocks away without his jacket, wallet or phone, according to his lawyer and Barry.

When the 18-year-old managed to reunite with Barry, he had a bloody eye.

"They told him, 'Go tell your friends from Montreal North to stay home. This is Quebec City,'" Barry told Tout un Matin.

"What good does it do to tell him that? You leave him outside, he's 18, you hurt his eye," Barry said. "Bring him to the hospital or bring him to the police station. He's 18."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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