A Nova Scotian boxer is livid after an extreme case of racial profiling that took place late Tuesday night in Montreal.
“I think it was because I’m black. You cannot look at me and tell me I’m a drug trafficker,” said Custio Clayton, who is a father of three and has never been in trouble with the law.
The Dartmouth-trained boxer, who turned pro and moved to Montreal in 2014, was driving home from a training session in Cornwall, Ont.
“I was five minutes from home when I saw a police car traveling in the opposite direction,” Clayton said.
The police officer did a U-turn and then pulled him over at the corner of Pierre-de-Coubertin Avenue and Beauclerk Street in the city’s east end — just northeast of the Olympic village.
Clayton, who was driving a rented 2017 GMC Denali because his regular car was in the shop for body work after a minor accident last week, was asked for his licence and registration by the police officer. He asked why he was being pulled over, but she wouldn’t tell him, again asking for his documents.
Clayton said the police officer scolded him for not providing papers immediately. He said he was more than willing to provide his papers to her, but reminded her of his right to know why she was stopping him.
Clayton relented and gave the officer his licence and the registration for the SUV and waited while the officer ran the documents. During this time, another police cruiser showed up so there were two police cars now with four officers — all women and all white. He guesses that he waited for about an hour until the officer came back after running his licence and the plate.
“She asked me to lower my window, turn off the engine, and give her the keys.” Clayton said. He asked her if there was something wrong, and her answer shocked Clayton, so he did exactly what they asked.
“She told me to get out of the car and told me that I was under arrest because she suspected I was a drug trafficker and that I was hiding drugs in my car,” Clayton said. “She handcuffed me and put me in the police car.”
He sat in the back of the cruiser for an estimated 90 minutes while the police searched the vehicle.
All the police found were two baby seats, a booster seat, a baby stroller, and a gym bag. The officer who arrested Clayton told the father of three that it was the first time in her 20-year career that she had been wrong — as if that would make him feel better.
She did not apologize, and instead gave him a ticket. Clayton got a $63 fine for not having documents to show that he was driving a rented vehicle because the registration documents in the rental vehicle were the wrong ones. The company he rented it from had accidentally switched up the registration papers.
“I’ve never felt so humiliated in my life. I felt violated,” Clayton said.
Clayton’s partner, Charis Diggs, wrote on Facebook that “it is unfortunate that there are police officers out there humiliating innocent people with no evidence.”
“Custio is a family man and an amazing father to his children. He is a great role model for all and has always worked hard to excel in his career,” Diggs wrote.
Douggy Berneche, Clayton’s manager with Groupe Yvon Michel, said he’s never seen Clayton as upset as he was yesterday.
“He called me right away,” Berneche said. “He was hungry and he was tired and his priority was to go see his family, have a good snack and have a good night’s sleep.”
Clayton spent Wednesday training, and talking to reporters about what happened. He’s preparing for his 11th professional fight next Saturday (April 15) in Cornwall, Ont.
“I am very strong mentally and I will be ready. I will continue to train as I usually do. I will continue to be the person I am and that everyone knows I am,” he said.
In her Facebook note, Diggs also wrote: “You got this babe! xo”
Clayton is 10-0 (eight KOs) since turning professional and will be in the ring for the first time since last October. “He has to focus on the fight,” Berneche said.
Clayton’s promoter Yvon Michel, has big plans for Clayton.
“After this match things are going to speed up for Custio because our goal is to get him into the top 10 in the world by the end of the year,” he said when announcing the bout for the welterweight boxer.
Clayton will face Alfredo Chavez of Mexico in an eight-round bout and he’s not sure if is going to make a formal complaint against the police and launch a legal battle similar to the one that North Preston’s Kirk Johnson famously won against Halifax police in 2003.
That case dragged on for five years and justice, if you can call it that, marches much slower in Montreal says Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR).
“We have a deep-rooted systemic problem,” Niemi said. “In some parts of town if you’re black and male, you’re 150 per cent more likely to be pulled over by the police.”
Berneche said that the area where Clayton was stopped is an area controlled by the biker gangs. Niemi said biker gangs in Quebec are known for not accepting black members, so there was no compelling reason to think Clayton was involved in anything illegal. That he was just driving home and had not done anything to warrant a routine traffic stop makes it look like a case that Niemi has seen all too often.
“Montreal is a hostile city for young black men,” he said. “This happens year after year and there is a pattern of “arrest first, handcuff first, talk later.”
It does occasionally happen to men of Middle Eastern descent, and less so to Asian men, but they are not known for being treated as harshly by police as black men are, Niemi said.
Despite announcing a two-year plan to address racial profiling in 2012, the problem persists, Niemi said.
“We still have —every month — abusive stops, abusive arrests, and offensive language being used,” he said.
Montreal police force has gone through a lot of turmoil recently with a power struggle at the top, so dealing with this problem is not something many in management seem overly concerned with, Niemi said.
Niemi, who has worked for CRARR for 25 years, says Montreal’s multi-ethnic population does not alleviate the problem.
“Diversity of cultures in a population does not mean that it’s free of racism,” he said. “It’s structural, it’s systemic, it’s built in.”
He’s even dealt with a case of racial profiling that involved a black police officer.
“There is interpersonal and institutional racism,” Niemi said.
On Wednesday, Montreal police spokesman Benoit Boisselle said the force is aware of the claims made by Clayton, but said they wanted to verify some information before making a statement.
Niemi said he’s been trying to contact Clayton to offer some help or advice, although if the boxer wants to take on a fight outside the ring, he’ll be facing a formidable foe and will have to be prepared to go the distance.
“We had a case of racial profiling that we filed in 2009 and we only got the decision this year in January,” Niemi said. “That will give you an idea of the efficiency of the process.”
On top of that, the Quebec Human Rights commission is underfunded and faces a systemic bias in front of the tribunal where cases are argued.
“In 2016, all five cases brought by the human rights commission on racial profiling before the human rights tribunal for litigation were thrown out,” Niemi said. “The commission lost all five cases because the city of Montreal’s lawyers are notorious for fighting back on all kinds of claims. The Human Rights Commission doesn’t have the resources to do its job and that’s why these things keep happening.”
Niemi said he doesn’t expect to see any improvement until actions such as racial profiling are tied to job performance. If there’s no penalty for doing this, you won’t see a change in behaviour.
“We have to build it into the job description and we have to build it into the hiring criteria and create an expectation of standards,” he said. “Police officers should show courtesy and have emotional intelligence.”