MONTREAL — Civil rights groups that have condemned racial profiling by Montreal police officers say they're pleased with the selection of Fady Dagher as the city's new police chief.
Dagher, whose nomination was announced Thursday, is currently chief of police in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil, Que., where he has gained a reputation for building links between the police and the community.
Alain Babineau, a retired RCMP staff sergeant who works at anti-racial profiling organization Red Coalition, said he thinks Dagher is the type of leader police need in the 21st century. "We're very pleased with what he said, but at the end of the day, deeds speak much louder than words, so we'll have to wait and see," Babineau said in an interview.
Babineau said his organization wants to work with Dagher, adding that he hopes the new chief is supported by the municipal administration, the police union and city residents.
"He's not a messiah," said Babineau, who was hired by the City of Montreal in 2021 to tackle racial profiling by police. He left the role a little more than a year later, however, due to resistance from the police union and senior officers. "People have to be reasonable, they have to be understanding of the challenges that he's going to be facing and be supportive."
Max Stanley Bazin, the president of the Black Coalition of Quebec, said many Montrealers have lost confidence in the police, but he said he was hopeful Dagher will help rebuild trust.
"If we have a police chief who is proactive, who takes charge and who has a positive influence on all his members and who ensures that those members behave in an appropriate manner, in a manner that does not violate the fundamental rights of citizens, we can see that this will naturally have an impact," he said in an interview.
Bazin, whose organization is part of a class-action lawsuit against the City of Montreal on behalf of people who allege they were racially profiled by Montreal police, praised a program launched by Dagher on Montreal's South Shore. The program in Longueuil places unarmed officers in civilian clothing into community organizations to build relationships. Bazin said the project has made police more accessible.
Dagher told reporters, "We need to get closer to the community, to understand, to grasp the public's issues in order to serve them better."
The nominee for chief said he recognizes that racial profiling by police is a problem, admitting that he has — often unconsciously — racially profiled people in the past and that he has also been a profiling victim.
"So when you tell me about the distance and the mistrust between the community and the police, I understand that," he said. "Most of the time, we are talking about unconscious bias, but that doesn't mean we can excuse them, it doesn't mean that it's acceptable, but we have to find a way to work together."
Dagher, an immigrant who grew up in Côte d'Ivoire, spent more than 25 years at the Montreal police service, where he rose to the rank of deputy chief and headed the force's internal efforts to counter racial profiling, before he was appointed chief in Longueuil.
He said he thinks policing must be a balance between repression and prevention. During his time in Longueuil, he said, the number of drug raids and arrests increased, adding that he wants his officers to be "hunting" not "fishing."
Dagher's appointment will need to be approved by several municipal bodies, as well as the provincial government. He has the support of Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and her governing Projet Montréal party, as well as opposition party Ensemble Montréal.
"Fady demonstrated his ability to build trust between police officers and citizens," Plante told reporters, adding that he shares her goal that "Montreal remains a safe city and an inclusive city."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press