The headquarters of the Saguenay Police Department is located in the Arvida sector.
The Saguenay Police Service (SPS) has refused to hire experienced Aboriginal or cultural minority candidates in recent years, even though the SPS does poorly in terms of inclusion and diversity.
According to data obtained through the Access to Information Act, but which the SPS initially refused to disclose to Radio-Canada, there is no There are no Aboriginals or ethnic minorities in the Saguenay police. There is only one visible minority out of the 238 police officers, or 0.4% of the workforce.
With equal skills, the Act respecting equal access to employment in public bodies provides that a person from diversity should be hired. In the case of the Saguenay police candidates, human resources say they did not meet the criteria.
Among these police officers who applied during the last rounds of hiring, some were nevertheless employed by an Aboriginal police force or the Sûreté du Québec, and even held the rank of sergeant. They had also obtained internal recommendations from Saguenay police officers who considered them an asset to the organization.
The rejection of these rare applications described as exceptional by several sources has therefore caused misunderstanding within the police forces, especially since only 10 of the 15 positions that were to be filled were filled last spring.
There is a certain malaise in the staff, a form of systemic racism. They don't take the time to understand the differences of these candidates as part of the hiring process, said a former high-ranking officer who wishes to remain anonymous.
Other police sources who denounce the SPS's delay in terms of inclusion point out that more and more Aboriginals and immigrants live in Saguenay, which should have made the profile of these candidates very attractive to improve interventions in the community.
“There seems to be a conjunction of precise, concordant and serious facts which have the appearance of discrimination in hiring”— Rémi Bourget, lawyer
These candidates work in police forces which are very demanding in terms of hiring, which have very substantial CVs, so indeed it becomes very difficult to believe that these people did not have the skills to be a police officer for the City of Saguenay, supports the civil and constitutional lawyer, Rémi Bourget.
For example, one of the dismissed police officers was previously a lawyer in Brazil. He holds a master's degree in international law and speaks four languages. A graduate in Police Technology from Alma College, he was decorated for his exemplary career and then obtained the Instructor Prize at the National Police School in Nicolet. In addition to being a constable, he teaches future Aboriginal police officers at Alma College.
Other racialized or Indigenous candidates, with varying experiences, have also found work in other police services after being ousted from the process in Saguenay.
Councilman Martin Harvey.
SPS management declined our interview requests. The president of the human resources commission of the City of Saguenay, Martin Harvey, however, assures that there was no discrimination and that it was a question of skills. When people do not meet the criteria we have set, they are not taken. That's how it works, he explains.
By way of comparison, among the 251 police officers employed by the Sûreté du Québec in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, 11 come from diversity. Nine are Aboriginal and two are from ethnic or visible minorities. This represents 4.4% of the SQ's regional workforce.
In Sherbrooke, a city similar to Saguenay, the municipal police have seven police officers in their ranks who have self-identified as coming from historically discriminated groups, or 2.6% of the 269 police officers. To recruit more, the Police Service has even implemented a program with mechanisms adapted to cultural diversity and additional efforts to promote inclusion.
At the ;National Police School of Quebec, in 2020-2021, 15% of police officers who graduated were members of cultural, indigenous or visible minority communities.
Definitions of groups covered by the Act respecting equal access to employment in public bodies
Aboriginal people are the First Nations, Inuit or Métis peoples of Canada.
A visible minority is a person, other than an Aboriginal person, who is non-white in color and whose physical characteristics linked to their origins may be grounds for discrimination.
An ethnic minority is a person, other than an Aboriginal person or a visible minority, whose mother tongue does not ;is neither French nor English.
None of the rejected candidates wanted to openly testify about their experience in the context of this report, even if several have reasonable grounds to believe that it is discrimination.
Lawyer Rémi Bourget points out that in the police environment, which has a reputation for being quite opaque, police officers who consider themselves victims of racism often give up denouncing employers.
“People don't dare go out against the machine. They are fearful, often rightly, of reprisals and the future repercussions that it could have on their professional but also personal life. »
— Rémi Bourget, lawyer
The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse encourages them to file a complaint.
The candidate is often helpless in relation to what he may perceive as being discrimination and that is why I invite people to file a complaint , mentions legal advisor Stéphanie Fournier. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects against reprisals, she says.
The evidence, which is often difficult to establish, nevertheless discourages the victims. But lawyers point out that discrimination does not have to be voluntary or direct. The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that it is enough to show that ethnic or indigenous origin is one of the factors that contributed to the exclusion of a candidacy.
Generally, the employer will not say: I refused him because of his ethnic origin or because he is Aboriginal. The particularity of the investigation process at the Human Rights Commission is that we can get information that we cannot get otherwise. So, we can oblige the employer to provide us with the applications, the exams, the tests that have been done, the interview outlines of the different people and confront him with his decisions. And we can also investigate systemically. In some cases, it can be shown that the system has a disproportionate effect of exclusion of a certain category of people, specifies Stéphanie Fournier.
Stéphanie Fournier, lawyer at the Human Rights Commission.
Lawyer Rémi Bourget agrees. We have the impression, when we hear certain people speak, that if we say that there is systemic racism or systemic discrimination, that means that everyone is racist in the system. That's not it at all. The biases are mostly unconscious. It is very, very rare that we will consciously want to exclude minorities from certain positions in 2022. It is more insidious, he explains.
In this case, it has all the appearance of indirect discrimination, which for all practical purposes, is the equivalent of systemic racism argues the lawyer.
The Service de police de Saguenay has set up an Aboriginal committee to build bridges with the community, in collaboration with the Center Mamik. But the problem, according to the executive director of this organization, Mélanie Boivin, is that there is not even an Aboriginal police officer on this committee.
To remedy this situation, we need a clear policy on the hiring of cultural diversity, particularly First Nations. I think it will take real actions, real intentions from senior management, insists the woman from Mashteuiatsh.
The community organization she leads represents and supports the urban Aboriginal population. In Saguenay, there are more than 7,000 First Nations people, according to the 2016 Statistics Canada Census.
The Executive Director of the Center Mamik Mélanie Boivin,
Mélanie Boivin would like the Saguenay authorities to follow the example of the partnership with the Sûreté du Québec, which she describes as a model in Lac-Saint-Jean. She explains that the SQ systematically calls on her services to train police officers and make them aware of Aboriginal realities. The two institutions work together to reduce the recurrence of police interventions among First Nations. And the provincial police refer Indigenous citizens to the Mamik Center for all kinds of help.
The director points out that the SQ has hired native and even non-native police officers who speak Atikamekw in Lac-Saint-Jean. In addition, in Roberval, a police officer devotes all his time to First Nations issues.
Meanwhile, the Saguenay police aboriginal committee is treading water, says Mélanie Bovine. She notes that the SPS police officers are generally unaware of the Mamik Center and that the organization is not kept informed of police interventions in Aboriginal homes.
We have a resource that is a community agent, about 25% of whose work is assigned to Indigenous services. So it's minimal for a city that welcomes a large number of First Nations on its territory, she is indignant.
Mélanie Boivin believes that the first step to take would be to hire an Aboriginal police officer to improve services, even if it means reviewing the SPS selection processes.
The seemingly neutral selection process could explain the rejection of racialized or Indigenous candidates for the Saguenay police.
Until 2022, they were subjected to a psychometric test. However, science recognizes that this type of examination can induce cultural and linguistic bias. An immigrant candidate who applied to Saguenay in 2019 also failed this test. The Brazilian-born police officer then approached management to have the formula revised to avoid systemic discrimination. The psychometric test was abolished three years later. The policeman therefore tried his luck again this year, but was not selected.
Me Bourget gets involved for the defense of the fundamental rights of minorities.
In an internal email dated last December, of which Radio-Canada obtained a copy, the management of the SPS mentioned that a new procedure was in place to fill in retirements. “The next process will have changes to allow for a wider selection of profiles and ultimately have more diversity. The know-how remains a major issue among the selection criteria during the overall evaluation of an application”, could we read. At the same time, management invited the police to submit names to them to avoid missing out on an interesting candidate.
However, the candidates called for an interview were asked how they would react if they had to carry out an intervention with a racist colleague with cultural minorities. If that's not discriminatory, I wonder what is! , jumped the lawyer Rémi Bourget. “We see that the hiring burden is heavier for a racialized candidate,” he protests.
Candidates who passed the interview stage then completed the Security and Integrity Screening Questionnaire in order to be subjected to the polygraph test, an examination whose validity is not even recognized in court. in Canada. This form, like the pre-employment questionnaire, could also induce a discriminatory bias if the selection committee does not take into account the cultural background of the candidates when analyzing their answers, explains the lawyer.
A car from the Saguenay Police Department (SPS)
Candidates are asked to know if they have been in contact with drug users or in the presence of drugs, if they have participated in fights, etc. Rémi Bourget recalls that police officers who grew up on an Aboriginal reserve or near the favelasin Brazil have been more steeped in violence and that their proximity to crime must be contextualized.
You can always say that it is the same rule that applies to everyone , but in fact, people who are vulnerable minorities are going to be at a disadvantage in these apparently neutral questions or in these polymetric tests, or polygraph tests that appear neutral. It is well documented that the results rather participate in creating indirect or systemic discrimination , argues Me Bourget. He believes that a critical mass of potential victims could also give rise to a class action.
The city of Saguenay will have no choice but to recognize at some point that there is an untenable situation with regard to the representation of minorities within its police force, believes the lawyer.