A police report commissioned after the death of Fredy Villanueva, a youth killed by police in 2008, found that Black youth in Montreal are eight times more likely than white youth of the same age to be stopped by the police. This comes as no surprise to Legal Coordinator Ralph, who helps youth navigate the effects of racial profiling in his Know Your Rights workshops. We spoke with Ralph about the reality of racism in Montreal and the importance of empowering youth in knowing their rights.
H&H: What examples of police racism have you come across in your work with youth?
Ralph: I’ve spoken to a lot of Black youth who’ve complained about getting tickets for loitering in the metro while the white youth around aren’t getting ticketed. My role is to take their experience seriously, share resources, and help them explore different ways they can respond. And if they want legal advice, I can connect them with our volunteer lawyers.
What makes you uniquely positioned to run the Know Your Rights workshops?
I have a paralegal degree, and I’m also a person of colour with lived experiences of racism. This helps me to understand what the youth are going through while being able to provide the theory, history, and context behind it.
What does a typical workshop look like?
I try to keep it fun and interesting. We role play in costume: youth dress up in uniforms with hats and badges. Going through scenarios and teaching youth their rights each step of the way means that if they’re presented with a similar situation in real life, they’ll feel less afraid and be able to stay calm and be assertive. I also teach youth how to take pictures and record conversations, identify police and ask them for their badge. By the end of the workshop, the energy in the room feels lighter. Many youth share personal stories, and say it’s a therapeutic experience.
Workshops happen every 1 to 2 months, when the need is there. There’s also a Know Your Rights video series on our YouTube channel, plus pamphlets and cards at our office and on our website.
Ralph is available to support youth with a variety of issues – from profiling, to housing, divorce, and more. Our legal services receive no dedicated funding, meaning they’re supported entirely by donors like you!