A PhD student from Guinea who lives and works in Montreal escaped a legal noose that was on the verge of strangling him, his family and his friends for over a week last Friday–ever since he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got arrested and went to jail for something he vehemently denied he had anything to do with.
At a press conference, Montreal Police Chief Sylvain Caron exonerated and apologized to Mamadi III Fara Camara, 31, who was arrested on Jan. 28–eight days previous–when police came to his house hours after he was pulled over in Montreal’s Parc-Extension sector for using his phone while driving.
Camara spent the next six days in jail because, police had said, he attacked the officer, Sanjay Vig, who pulled him over, taking Vig’s gun in the process.
Camara maintained he had had nothing to do with a confrontation that took place shortly after he was pulled over–saying that he had, in fact, called the police and waited for them to arrive to inform them about what he had witnessed–a confrontation during which, Camara said, shots had been fired by a still-unidentified man.
“I want Montrealers to know that he has nothing to be ashamed of,” Caron told his Friday press conference.
He did not answer reporters’ questions, saying an information session will be held for the public and the media to explain the police investigation process but did not say when the session would be held.
Camara’s arrest, according to his niece Manty Keita, was ugly.
She told Haitian comedian Renzel Dashington in a live Instagram interview that both her uncle and his wife, who is expecting twins, had been traumatized.
“They ransacked his house, they searched it from top to bottom. She is in an impossible state,” alleged Keita, saying that Camara’s wife went to her sister’s house.
“He was wounded in the face when the police put him on the ground,” she said.
Last Wednesday, when Camara showed up for a bail hearing, he was abruptly told that–because of new evidence--he was no longer facing charges, at least for the moment.
Later that day, Caron issued his apology.
The story played out on the front pages of newspapers, on talk radio and as a prominent item on the evening television news–in a city that has been grappling with what critics say is a culture of systemic racism by members of the police department.
Last June, a public report detailed racism and discrimination across municipal institutions and made 38 recommendations calling for sweeping changes to the way things are handled, and Mayor Valérie Plante committed to following through.
As well, Quebec Premier François Legault said he would set up a group to look at ways to target racism in Quebec–despite his much-repeated view that there is no systemic racism in the province.
And so is the anger.
On Friday evening, about 100 people gathered in front of a subway station in the neighbourhood where Camara was arrested last week.
Protesters condemned the arrest and called for an end to systemic racism, with many saying they didn’t believe Camara would have been arrested if he was white.
Camara, according to Radio-Canada, is an engineer by training who holds a master’s degree in telecommunications from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
In the spring of 2017, he was admitted as a postgraduate student at Université Laval in Quebec City to pursue a doctorate and currently oversees a laboratory at École polytechnique de Montréal.
According to the CBC’s Isaac Olson, Camara’s duties there were suspended during the criminal proceedings and he was barred from campus.
After Wednesday’s decision was announced, Olson reports, a spokesperson for the school, Annie Touchette, said Polytechnique officials will meet with Camara to discuss his reinstatement on campus and the resumption of his duties.
“Polytechnique Montreal community is relieved for him and his loved ones,” she told Olson in an email.
“Support will be offered to him.”
A hunt for the man who was involved in the confrontation with Officer Vig continues.
With files from CBC News (Isaac Olson), The Canadian Press