Q&A with Joel DeBellefeuille

Joel DeBellefeuille answers attendee questions from of our Racial Profiling in Policing conference.

You recounted that in your interaction with the police, they stated that your physical appearance didn't match your French last name and served as a basis to question you. This encounter was quite literally the textbook definition of profiling. Would you have any suggestions as to how we can ensure that the trained officers have demonstrated cultural competency to prevent this from happening to another individual? 

First of all, they have to continue integrating with the community. They need to keep an open mind regarding the fact that there are different cultures out there. It's really as simple as keeping an open mind and understanding that not everybody is the same. You listen to people, question what you watch on the news, and strive not to be easily influenced by the news. They need to keep a broader perspective of their community. There are many things that officers can do during their downtime to educate themselves on the diverse cultures around them. It's not that hard. They just have to be willing to do so. It shouldn't just be once they have their badge or their uniform on. It should be all the time, continuously immersing themselves in their communities and trying to better themselves. 

Do you see your experiences with police as exceptions (bad individual officers) or as representative of an entire system of racist and unfair policing?  

I realize that there are some bad apples. If the police organization was created two years ago, it would be easy to blame it on the officers. But the police have been around for ages. For me, it's a bit of both. Yes, you have to blame it on the system because it's the system that is housing these police officers. It's the system responsible for its officers, training them properly, and ensuring that they are not doing things wrong. The system should be supervising the officers, the staff, and the people that they're hiring. It starts from the top. If the system had it right, then maybe the inner core would get it better. They have been at this for years. Yes, there are some racist bad cops, and there are good cops. I know that there are more good cops than there are bad cops. Even these people may not necessarily be bad. They are perhaps uneducated. I don't think they're all ignorant. Some of them just need to keep integrating with the community, keeping an open mind that will help them do their job better, and practice fairer policing.

As a parent, how do we prepare and protect our Black children as they become teenagers who will be out in the community increasingly without us there as they get older, without encouraging mistrust and fear that may affect their mental health and make them feel disempowered?  

Communication is key. My son Jax is ten years old now. He's been with me during this whole situation since birth, essentially. He's aware of it all. I don't try to shelter him from it at all. He knows what's going on. It's important not to shelter. Just tell it to them like it is. I try to explain how some good officers out there want to help but that, in certain circumstances, have bad judgment. It's as simple as having a conversation that will help him when he starts driving in about five or six years. It will be in the back of his mind because he knows that his father experienced this for the last 12 years. I would assume that he would have an open mind and better judgment than somebody who was not in this situation. Let them know that they need to be as respectful as possible, hoping that they never encounter a situation where it could be an awful experience or even dangerous. Fortunately for me, it was never a dangerous situation. At the same time, stand up for who you are. If you know you haven't done anything wrong, don't be afraid, when they come up to the window, to confront them, because it is your right to confront them. They're mandated to provide you with the reason why they're pulling you over. You have the right to ask them if you are being detained. If you're not, and they don't want to tell you why you're being pulled over, you have the right to say I'm out of here. Nobody knows that, and the police aren't going around with a bullhorn saying that this is your right. They know that they intimidate people. Parents have to somehow seamlessly explain to their children that they must respect the law but also respect themselves. 

It took eight years for your long legal battle over the incident of racial profiling in Longueil to finally come to an end. How did you persevere for so long, and do you think that the difficulty of proving racial profiling and of navigating the legal process (including delays in the processing of complaints) discourages victims of racial profiling from pursuing legal action? 

Well yeah, absolutely. I mean, it is a long battle. I did it because I hate being told that I'm a liar. I have a strong personality, and I can see and steer through things just because of that. I know when I've done something wrong, and you know it's important for me, especially being a public figure as director of a few public companies, to provide the whole story. The perseverance for me was first and foremost for my son. He carries my last name. I've been through this for the previous 12 years. I guarantee that he will also face this issue. One, he'll be confronted with this issue because he carries my last name, and two, because he is black. That's what is crucial for me. The first couple of years, it was mostly that, and then afterward, it changed from being for my son and myself to the fact that this is happening all the time and it has to stop. Fortunately, in November, there was a second landmark decision that is not only changing things for my son or me but all Quebecers and changing it for all Canadians. I'm glad that I was able to help with that. Because how easy could it have been for you just to pay for the ticket?

My suggestions for anybody going through this would be to highlight how important it is to just hang in there. You go to court twice a year. It's a couple of hours out of your time, but you can help solve this. But no, I didn't anticipate it taking that long.

Joel DeBellefeuille

Entrepreneur and businessman

Mr. Joel DeBellefeuille is a Quebec entrepreneur and businessman, and founder of Just3 a boutique consulting firm providing strategic business solutions to companies. He is also CEO and Co-founder of Marianna Naturals Corp., a skin care, health and wellness brand, as well as a husband and father. Mr. DeBellefeuille has filed several human rights complaints in Quebec arising from racial profiling, and has been featured regularly in media reports. The most recent case arose in 2012, when Mr. Debellefeuille was driving his son to daycare and was followed by police for 11 blocks before being stopped and asked for identification. He filed a human rights complaint, and after eight years of litigation, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal delivered a landmark ruling that the police had had no valid reason for the stop and that incident had been motivated by systemic racism. Mr. DeBellefeuille’s fight against racial profiling has resulted in jurisprudence that is changing how law enforcement agencies, government bodies and municipalities handle systemic racism and discrimination


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