The Québec Human Rights Commission and the Construction of the Concept of Social Profiling

AuthorPaul Eid
ProfessionProfessor in the Department of Sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM), and a member of the Chaire de recherche en immigration, ethnicité et citoyenneté (CRIEC)
 
Paul Eid2
The Commission des d roits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse
(Commission) is mandated, among other things, to ensu re that Québec’s
laws, bylaws, sta ndards, and institutional practices, bot h public and
private, comply with the Charter of human rights and freedom s3 (Charter),
a quasi-constit utional law. Since its early days in the late 1970s, the
Commission has had a research team comprised of approximately half
legal experts and half social scientists. This pa rity is in formed by the
notion that any attempt to properly investigate human rights issues
needs to rest on an understanding of the social, cultural, political, and
economic factors t hat contribute to either foster or ha mper one’s ability
to eectively exercise one’s rights protected by t he Charter. To this end,
a cross-fertilization of the sociological and legal lenses provides an in-
depth understanding of how the legal framework interacts with social
relations (of power) in preventi ng vulnerable groups from eectively
1 Except for the i ntroduction and t he conclusion, thi s chapter is an ada pta-
tion of Commis sion des droits de la pers onne et des droits de la jeu nesse,
La judiciarisat ion des personnes itinérantes à Mont réal: un prolage social
(Québec: CDPDJ, 2009) at 45–111 [CDPDJ], co-authored by Paul E id & Me
Christine Campbell.
2 Paul Eid is a professor in the De partment of Sociolo gy at the Université d u
Québec à Montréa l (UQÀM), and a member of the Ch aire de recherche e n
immig ration, ethn icité et citoyenneté (CR IEC).
3 RSQ 1975, c C-12 [Charter].
 
converting t heir formal equa lity Charter r ights into substa ntive equalit y
Such a perspective is consistent wit h the systemic approach to dis-
crimination, which has been given increasing judicial credence since
the 1980s. Indeed, the Supreme Court, as well as lower level courts
across the country, have contributed to the building and enriching
of our understa nding of this notion over the past decades. As will be
made clear below, the way the Commission conceptualized the notion
of social proling and analyzed its various manifestations in its land-
mark 2009 report4 is fully in keeping with this system ic approach to
The rst par t of this paper presents the contex tual background an d
the conceptual framework underlying the notion of socia l proling.
First, I sketch out the context and provide the data that prompted the
Commission to inves tigate the issue of biased p olicing against homeles s
people (Section B(1)). Then, I explain the mea ning attached to the no-
tion of social proling, and the reason why this concept is appropriate
to capture the k ind of discri minatory law en forcement practices that t he
homeless experience on a reg ular basis in thei r contacts with the police
(Section B(2)). Thirdly, I will go over cer tain cues that were ident ied by
the Commission a s social proling benc hmarks (Section B(3)), and point
out which kind of hum an rights violations can result from socia l prol-
ing under the C harter (Sec tion B(4)).
The second part of t he paper demonstrates how social proli ng in
Montréal can be b est understood as a for m of systemic discr imination in-
duced, among other t hings, by law enforcement aut horities’ ocial poli-
cies, standa rds, and decision-making procedures. I w ill rst shed light
on the way homeless people were portrayed in the Service de police de
la Ville de Montréa l (SPVM)’s institut ional standards and policies shap-
ing what became t o be known as the “ght aga inst ‘incivil ities’” (Section
C(1)). Then in Sec tion C(2), I explain how the s tigmatization of homeless
people in these ocia l documents has fue lled, over the past ve year s or
so, systemic social proling in law enforcement pract ices. Lastly, draw-
ing on the Commission’s report, I will critically engage w ith the ration-
ales put forth by t he SPVM in its instit utional standards a nd policies to
justif y its portrayal of the homeless a s a high-risk population deser ving
4 CDPDJ, above note 1.

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