MONTREAL – For some Canadians, the 90-second video brought back memories of George Floyd: a white police officer appears to be kneeling on the neck of a black teenager lying face down on the floor on a Montreal street.
Police said Saturday that they are investigating what happened after a video of the encounter sparked an outcry from politicians and human rights defenders, many of whom were alarmed about the manner in which the 14-year-old was apparently being held back.
Montreal police said the encounter took place on June 10 after officers were called to a fight between 15 young people near a high school in the Villeray neighborhood of Montreal. They said that two of the youths were armed.
It was not clear what happened in advance of the encounter between the officer and the teenager. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the teen was tied by the officers’ knees for less than a minute and that one officer said the teen had what looked like a stun gun.
The outcry comes as Canada sees a national awakening to institutional racism, including among the police force, fueled by the Black Lives Matter movement. The murder of Mr. Floyd by Minneapolis police last year sparked this movement.
“This brings back memories of what happened to George Floyd because the police use the same technique,” said Balarama Holness, a human rights activist running for Montreal mayor.
“The police must be held accountable,” continued Holness. “These techniques shouldn’t be allowed, period.”
Fernando Belton, a criminal defense attorney who represents the teenager in the video, said he and another teenager, also 14 years old, were arrested after police officers arrived at the scene and the teenagers began to flee. He said one teenager was overtaken by two police officers while the second was arrested by six officers. He said they both had their knees on their necks.
“Why do you need so much police force on teenagers?” asked Mr. Belton, who teaches a racial profiling class at the University of Ottawa. “We’re not talking about criminals here, we’re talking about teenagers who are arrested in broad daylight.”
The outcry over the video comes after Brenda Lucki, the commissioner of Canada’s famous national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was forced to retract her earlier denials of systemic racism within the police force. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also argued that police across the country are grappling with systemic racism.
Last year, Canadians reacted with outrage to a police dashcam video showing an indigenous chief being held down by one police officer and thrown to the ground, hit on the head and put in a stranglehold by another.
While Canada boasts of being a progressive, liberal bastion, human rights activists say its law enforcement agencies need to go through profound cultural changes to prevent attacks on minorities.
Concerns about police behavior have spread beyond Montreal. A study by the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that between 2013 and 2017, blacks in Toronto were nearly 20 times more likely to be involved in fatal shootings by Toronto police than whites.