The Crown has withdrawn drug charges against two young black men after a judge suggested an Ottawa police officer’s decision to stop the Cadillac they were driving in was racial profiling.
Ontario Court Justice Dianne Nicholas made the comment during a June 23 preliminary hearing for Loik St-Louis, 24, and Jordan Noel, 22, who were stopped on Rideau Street on Aug. 10, 2010. The men were driving Noel’s mother’s 1997 Cadillac DeVille when Const. Robin Ferrie testified they caught his attention because they were in a high crime area and wouldn’t look at him as they drove past, according to a transcript of the proceedings.
Ferrie said he was concerned the vehicle was stolen after running the licence plate and discovering it was registered to an older woman. The car didn’t come back as being stolen, but Ferrie was still concerned it may have recently been taken without permission and pulled Noel and St-Louis over.
Under questions from the judge, Ferrie struggled to explain why he stopped the car, where police later discovered 13 grams of marijuana, five grams of crack cocaine, and a drug scale.
Police also said they seized $1,685 in cash – money the Crown was later forced to admit went missing from the police evidence lock-up.
Ferrie’s notes indicated the stop was because of suspicious males in a vehicle in a high drug area, but in a later investigative action, he indicated it was two young males driving a Cadillac.
“It sure sounds like racial profiling to me,” said Nicholas, who earlier asked the officer if he would treat two white women the same way.
“How many white women do you stop in the market just because they are driving a car?” Nicholas demanded to know.
“I stop a lot of people, your honour,” the officer replied.
“You stop a lot of white women just driving a car? How many? How many in the last month?,” asked the judge.
“Your honour, I don’t, I couldn’t even tell you,” replied Ferrie, who later explained that he would view two white women not looking at him as suspicious since, in his experience, most people look at uniformed officers in a marked police cruiser.
St-Louis said there is no question in his mind he was racially profiled.
“They saw two black people in a nice car and pulled us over,” he said. “How is that not racial profiling by a white police officer?”
Noel felt the same way.
“I felt I was disrespected, discriminated against and judged because of my colour and because I was driving a Cadillac,” he said.
“Racial profiling has happened all my life,” said St-Louis, adding he doesn’t trust the police.
“Maybe it’s not whips and everything but for sure there is still slavery out there.
It might be mental,” he said. “It’s everyday living. It’s not supposed to be, but that is how it is.”
St-Louis said the officer never told them why they were stopped. Next thing they knew, they were in handcuffs.
During his testimony, Ferrie characterized pulling Noel’s car over as a “random stop.” He later conceded that it sounded more like a targeted stop during a cross-examination by St-Louis’s lawyer, Leo Russomanno, since the reason he stopped the men was because they seemed to be acting suspiciously.
Ferrie said he became more suspicious when Noel had the licence and registration ready before he got to the window and then stumbled over his address. Ferrie said he went back to his cruiser and asked for another unit.
Two more police cars then showed up. While Ferrie chatted with Noel’s mother to determine if he was allowed to have the car, one of the officers discovered
marijuana and a drug scale. Noel and St-Louis were arrested.
Ferrie testified Noel’s mother wasn’t aware he had the car.
Ferrie also testified that he smelled gasoline after approaching the car a second time. He said he wanted to be sure the car was safe to be on the road.
Nicholas questioned Ferrie as to why he needed backup for what he testified was just a traffic stop.
“You’re going to check whether he has permission to drive the car and two other police cars show up, like, come on?” asked Nicholas, who frequently interrupted the officer’s testimony. “Because two black guys in a car don’t look at you, you’re calling for backup?”
“No, your honour,” replied Ferrie.
“Well, that’s what it sounds like to me,” said the judge.
Ferrie explained he requested backup because he was afraid the men may run if it was a stolen car.
The Crown withdrew drug charges against the two men following Nicholas’s comments.
“I think that is an appropriate use of your discretion,” said the judge.
Rousseau then indicated the money belonging to the men had gone missing. St. Louis and Noel have since had their money returned, although they claim police seized several hundred dollars more than the amount mentioned in court.
Noel couldn’t explain why there were drugs in the car.
“I never knew there were drugs in the vehicle,” he said. “These guys search the car and then there are drugs there.”
“They are not my drugs, no,” said Noel.
The Ottawa Citizen 7th July 2011
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