‘Ottawa’ Six Police Cars for a $48 Ticket
It was supposed to be a fun night out for ice cream, but ended with six police cruisers surrounding a young black man who was holding an ice cream cone in his hand.
Andrew Denis-Lynch, a 26-year-old actor from Kirkland, was driving his girlfriend and her teenage sister home in Côte-des-Neiges after taking them out for a treat to McDonald’s. It was just after midnight on March 7.
Denis-Lynch stepped out from the driver’s side of his girlfriend’s car on Lemieux St., in front of her parents’ duplex, and started to do a little jig to cheer her up. At that moment, he recalls, a police cruiser pulled to a stop next to him, nearly cutting him off.
There were two officers in the police car and the female driver asked Denis-Lynch a question.
“Why are you so happy?” he quoted her as saying.
When Denis-Lynch responded that he wanted to make his girlfriend laugh, a stream of questions followed. Is that your car? What’s your name? Are you drunk?
Denis-Lynch responded that he doesn’t drink alcohol, ever. The officers got of their vehicle and walked up close to him. They accused him of standing in the middle of the street.
Denis-Lynch told the officers that wasn’t the case, as he was dancing right next to his girlfriend’s old Mazda.
By this time, the officers called for backup. The female officer grabbed his forearm at one point, he said.
Within minutes, five more police cars arrived on the scene. The officers disembarked from their vehicles and some placed their hands on their gun holsters, both Denis-Lynch and his girlfriend said.
The constable who had asked whether he was drunk wrote him a $48 ticket for “being a pedestrian and standing on the roadway to deal with the occupant of a vehicle” – a violation of the provincial Highway Safety Code. With the ticket in Denis-Lynch’s hands, all the officers got back in their cruisers and sped off.
“I was scared out of my mind,” Denis-Lynch recalled. “I was shaking.”
Helena Backa, Denis-Lynch’s girlfriend, said she’s convinced her boyfriend was the victim of racial profiling. So does the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), which plans to file a complaint against the officers with both the Quebec Human Rights Commission and the Quebec Police Ethics Commissioner.
“The backup they called for was excessive,” said Backa, a 23-year-old Concordia University psychology student. “I do feel he was targeted racially. They had their hands on their guns. I figured it was because he was black.”
Fo Neimi, executive director of CRAAR, noted that his organization files 15 to 20 complaints of “racially-biased conduct” against police each year.
“Unfortunately, this case fits the pattern,” Neimi said. “The conduct by the police was excessive and exaggerated.”
Constable Raphaël Bergeron, a spokesperson for the Montreal Police Department, was not able to comment immediately on the case Saturday.
On the department’s website, the police force emphasizes that “it is committed to ensuring … a service free from racial profiling.”
Denis-Lynch, however, is still traumatized nearly two weeks after his encounter with police, though he’s aware the outcome could have been much worse than just a ticket. He said he decided to go public with his story to raise awareness about the dangers of racial profiling.
“Enough is enough. I want things to change. People should be able to trust the police.”