Claiming a Montreal police officer removed a Muslim woman’s hijab and prayer robe without her permission, the Quebec Human Rights Commission is seeking to have the force ordered to update its search policies to better accommodate religious minorities.
According to documents filed by the commission in a case it’s bringing before the Human Rights Tribunal of Quebec, the police intervention — which it describes as “filled with prejudices associating Arab and Muslim people to terrorism” — took place in November 2014 and unfolded before several witnesses.
At the time of the incident, Aicha Essalama was visiting Montreal from Morocco to spend a month with her adult son. The two were on their way back from Friday prayers at a mosque in Laval when police patrollers circled their car.
A Montreal police detective had called Essalama’s son earlier that day to inform him an arrest warrant had been issued against him. He had missed a court hearing in a domestic abuse case in which he was later acquitted.
Her son had asked the detective if he could drop his mother off at home before meeting police away from his house, but the two were circled by patrol cars before making it there.
More than a dozen police officers then rushed out of their cars with their guns pointed at the pair, the legal brief alleges.
“Frightened and panicked,” it continues, Essalama exited the car and tried to run toward her son’s house. Using a loudspeaker, officers told her to get back in the car and place her hands on the dashboard.
Her son was arrested and placed in a police car. Essalama was then asked to get out of the car, where an officer cuffed her hands behind her back.