A year after Repentigny police fatally shot Andy Stark’s cousin, Jean René Junior Olivier, Black residents of the Montreal suburb are reeling.
“It’s the way that I lost him,” Stark said. “It’s not everyday that you lose a cousin, a family member, by the police force. It’s not easy.”
People gathered for a sit-in at Repentigny City Hall to commemorate Olivier, Monday evening, for a second time. He died on Aug. 1, 2021, after his mother, Marie-Mireille Bence, called police to her home for help when he was experiencing a mental health crisis.
The event coincided with Emancipation Day, which celebrates the British Empire officially abolishing slavery in 1834.
Bence says she will never forgive herself for calling the police.
“Far from helping him, they committed the worst,” Bence said to a crowd. “They murdered him before my eyes.”
“I still feel empty [without my son].”
Arlette Yashima, an organizer of the sit-in, says she had her fair share of racial profiling experiences while living in Repentigny for the past two years.
She says when she crosses paths with a police car, she knows she “will probably be stopped.”
“We are screaming for change. We are scared for our own safety,” she said. “I need to feel safe enough to know that if I have kids, my kids will be safe…. I don’t want to feel like I have to move.”
Repentigny police have documented tensions with Black residents.
Since 2017, at least nine complaints filed to the Human Rights Commission involved the Repentigny police force.
Alain Babineau, a director of the Red Coalition — a lobby aiming to eliminate racial profiling in Canada —is calling for the “Quebec government to take over the police force.”
He says citizens sent a letter to the minister of public safety in 2019, calling for Repentigny police to be placed under trusteeship.
“There’s enough talk. There’s enough research. There’s enough discussion. We want some actions,” he said.
In September 2021, Repentigny police published an action plan, grounded in diversity, equity and inclusion goals, to implement over the next five years.
The 13-page report mentions racial profiling four times and twice it describes the practice as “allegations” made against the force.
“There is no acknowledgement in that report that racial profiling even exists,” Babineau said. “They want to get ahead of the curve to deal with allegations of racial profiling.”
For Stark, little will change in the suburb unless the police “really get to know the community.”
But he won’t hold his breath.
“Once I see it, I will believe it. But for now, I don’t believe nothing.”
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.