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2 men file complaints against Montreal police after an allegedly violent jaywalking arrest

Two PhD students walking home after a night out in Montreal’s west end decided to skirt around a police operation by stepping into the empty road.

Within minutes they found themselves slammed against a fence in what they say was a violent arrest — one with his arms twisted to the near breaking point and the other his legs spread so far apart that his pants tore and both his knees were injured.

“It was confusing because I didn’t really understand what was going on,” said Amaechi Okafor, a Black man from Nigeria who came to Montreal three years ago to pursue a doctorate in history at Concordia University.

Speaking during a Friday news conference organized by the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), Okafor’s voice shook as he recounted what happened at around 3 a.m. on St-Jacques Street in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG) on July 22.

“All of a sudden I was pinned to the fence wall by several officers, and I had my hands handcuffed,” he said.

CRARR announced on Friday it is helping the men file complaints with Quebec’s police ethics commissioner and the human rights and youth rights commission.

four people at a table
CRARR executive director, Fo Niemi, far right, speaks during a Friday news conference. (CBC)

The complaints include racial profiling, abuse of authority, excessive force and other civil rights violations, the organization said.

And it all started when the two men decided not to walk through a police operation.

“It just makes no sense,” Niemi said. “Something has to change.”

Large police presence blocking way

Okafor’s friend, Wade Paul, is a member of St. Mary’s Maliseet First Nation in New Brunswick. Like Okafor, he is also pursuing a history doctorate.

There were multiple police cruisers, roof lights on, and several officers surrounding a person draped in an emergency blanket impeding their walk back to Okafor’s apartment, he said.

They were near the Helen-Rochester Street intersection — an area with no other intersections nearby so there is no convenient place to cross the street.

Section 452 of the province’s Highway Safety Code says: “Where it is impossible to use the sidewalk, a pedestrian may walk alongside the curb on the roadway after ascertaining that he can do so in safety.”

Wade Paul, a member of the St. Mary’s Maliseet First Nation in New Brunswick, is working toward a doctorate in history at Concordia University. (CBC)

Fo Niemi, executive director of CRARR, pointed out that there was no vehicle traffic given the hour, so it was safe to walk in the street.

Regardless, after the two men passed the police operation and immediately got back on the sidewalk, they heard shouting but didn’t realize it was directed at them, Paul said.

“Next thing I know, a police car is … up onto the sidewalk, cutting us off,” said Paul.

“I am being sort of ambushed from behind. I’m being yelled at. I am very confused. I can’t make heads or tails of what they are saying because they are yelling on top of each other.”

Paul said the police were focusing on Okafor, demanding he show identification. Paul decided to intervene, asking why they needed his friend’s ID. He was ordered to produce an ID as well, and was told it was for jaywalking. 

He said he was shocked by the situation and asked for more clarification.

“Next thing I know, I am getting my arm twisted while I am violently and aggressively thrown against a fence,” Paul said.

Satellite image
The two men were walking west on St-Jacques Street in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. There are sidewalks, but few places for pedestrians to cross the street in that area. (Google Maps)

Okafor warned police his legs were over extended, CRARR said in a news release. He has since been experiencing a cracking in his knees, and has been diagnosed with major tissue tears in both knees, the release said.

The two men said their pockets, wallets and phones were searched. Both were placed in the back of a cruiser. Okafor estimated he was detained for more than 20 minutes.

During the intervention, Paul said, he counted eight police officers and three police vehicles.

Fined $499 for ‘hindering’ police work

The two men were eventually handed tickets for jaywalking, a $49 fine, and for having hindered a peace officer in the performance of duties, a $499 fine.

That second fine, though costly, is not a criminal charge, but a violation under article 638.1 of Quebec’s Highway Safety Code. 

“It’s very discretionary, and therefore can be open to abuse,” said Niemi, who also said his organization often sees this fine issued in cases where people question the reason for the stop or ask for clarification.

Niemi said the men are contesting the tickets along with filing complaints. They experienced “serious violations” of the police code of ethics, he said.

“We have to continuously send the message that there are things that are no longer acceptable, and can no longer be tolerated in this city,” said Niemi.

Niemi said the process is still long, but it is important victims don’t give up because “it is about reclaiming your space and your freedom … reclaiming your dignity.”

“This kind of intervention could compromise any kind of serious efforts in trying to implement new change and improve relations, particularly with the Black community and with the Indigenous community here in Montreal,” he said.

Montreal police said they won’t comment on the situation in case it ends up before the courts.

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.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

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