Amal Asmar claims racial profiling for sitting on a bench at 3 a.m.

Concordia student claims racial profiling
Last Updated: Thursday, April 8, 2010 | 7:01 PM ET Comments23Recommend20

CBC News
Amal Asmar was sitting on a bench on Ste-Catherine Street in Montreal on Feb. 4 when she was approached by police. (CBC)

Concordia University student Amal Asmar plans to file a complaint against Montreal police, alleging she was mistreated by officers and fined $1,000 after being targeted because she is of Palestinian descent.

Montreal police refused to comment on the case, but the force has maintained that racial profiling is against its official policy.

Asmar, 33, a human relations and psychology student, said she was on her way to a friend’s house after a late night of studying for midterms at Concordia’s library on Feb. 4.

She said she stopped and sat down on a bench at a bus stop on Ste-Catherine Street outside the Alexis Nihon plaza at about 3 a.m., when a police cruiser pulled up and two male officers began questioning her.

“They said, ‘You’re breaking the law based on the way you’re using the bench.’ And I was just confused. I didn’t understand what they were talking about.”

The officers got out of the car and approached her, she said.

“I was like, ‘I don’t understand what’s going on. What did I do?’ And then before you know it, they had then roughed me up, if you will, and pushed me against the police car and began to restrain me.”

Asmar said she screamed when the officers began twisting her arm and pushing her neck against the cruiser.

“I was in such excruciating pain. I was crying. I was screaming, pleading for them to stop. I said, ‘Stop. You’re hurting me. I am in pain.'”

She claims she was handcuffed and frisked before being put in the back of the police cruiser.
Student claims racial profiling

“I was very confused as to why any of this happened. The only thing that I can say, and what I felt is that I was being singled out because of my ethnicity,” said Asmar.

Asmar said she was wearing a kaffiyeh — a black and white checkered scarf commonly worn in the Middle East. She said police made no mention of her ethnic origins.

Asmar received two tickets for the incident: a $620 ticket for making noise and a $480 ticket for using municipal property, in this case the bench, improperly.

She is contesting the tickets and plans to file a complaint with the Police Ethics Commission.

“The way I was mistreated, humiliated, embarrassed, it just instills this fear. These are cops that I’ve always seen as officials that are there to serve and protect us. And here the very people I though would do so, are the very people I am just terrified of.”
‘It’s unthinkable’

Asmar is working with Montreal’s Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations to file a complaint to Quebec’s Police Ethics Commissioner.

The centre’s executive director, Fo Niemi, said the circumstances Asmar describes are “unthinkable.”

“It’s very unusual. We find it very, very abusive.”

Niemi supports Amar’s claim that she was the target of racial profiling.

“Her race, her skin colour, the way she dressed — she was wearing the Arab scarf — and the fact that she was in the street at 2:30 in the morning, particularly around that area. So maybe the combination of those factors led the police to mistreat her.”

“This is the kind of incident that makes people lose faith in the police and nullify or compromise whatever good efforts the police try to do,” added Niemi.

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