A Quebec man who says he was abused by RCMP officers at Edmonton International Airport — and racially profiled by security staff — is calling for independent investigations into his allegations.
Chrislain Kenfack, who teaches courses on racism and conflict resolution, has filed complaints against the RCMP and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), alleging he was targeted by police and security officers because he is Black.
The complaints stem from April 28, when Kenfack, 45, was booked to fly to Ottawa with his children, ages two and 10.
Kenfack, who immigrated to Canada from Cameroon in 2019, said he was subjected to discriminatory security screening and then beaten, insulted and arrested by police.
The RCMP say the conduct of three officers is under investigation by its national watchdog, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission. The transport authority denies any wrongdoing by its employees.
Kenfack, who lives in Gatineau, Que., made his claims public Thursday at a news conference in Ottawa with the Red Coalition, a Montreal-based anti-racism lobby group advocating on his behalf.
“I was the victim of discrimination,” Kenfack said. “And secondly, violence.
“Brutality in public but also brutality in private … that is what I experienced,” he said in French. “That was my reality.”
Kenfack has also filed complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against the RCMP and CATSA.
This week, he filed a formal request with the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service, asking for a probe into the alleged excessive use of force and into the charges against him that were later dropped.
A flight missed, an arrest made
Kenfack said his encounter began at a security gate, when his watch and buttons set off an alarm. He said he was pulled aside and subjected to a “degrading” search that dragged on for more than 10 minutes, in view of his children.
“[I was] being touched all over, including my privates,” he said. “I felt dehumanized and disrespected.”
Kenfack said while he was being searched, two white passengers triggered the gate alarm but were not subjected to the same treatment. The transport authority denies this allegation.
“Not only did I feel this was harassment and I was uncomfortable, but I was in danger of missing my flight and I saw my children screaming,” he said in French.
He said he was then taken into a private screening room and searched again. Afterward, he rushed to the gate with his children. Their flight had already departed.
When he returned to the pre-boarding area to request a rebooking, CATSA staff refused to help him and repeatedly told him he was “playing the race card,” he said. A supervisor then returned to the desk flanked by three RCMP officers, he said.
Kenfack said the officers ordered him to leave the airport or face arrest. He said he tried to explain the situation to police but they belittled him with racist comments.
Kenfack said the officers then violently brought him to his knees, pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him.
He said he struggled to breathe from the force of the arrest and the fear he felt for his children.
“The whole violent scene was in the presence of my kids,” Kenfack wrote in his human rights complaint, which he filed in October. “They were so traumatized.”
Kenfack said he was put into a wheelchair and taken to the RCMP detachment at the airport, where he was allegedly subjected to further racist insults.
Police charged him with mischief and causing a disturbance. After he was released, he sought hospital treatment for injuries to his knees, wrists and neck.
‘Kenfack was warned’
Kenfack, who previously was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Alberta, said he often leads anti-racism training and has no doubt the treatment was discriminatory.
In a statement, the RCMP said three of its members were called for assistance because the passenger refused to leave the airport’s central pre-boarding area.
“Upon arrival, RCMP spoke to a male identified as Chrislain Kenfack who was upset after missing his flight and who refused to leave until he was given flights and accommodations,” RCMP said.
“Kenfack was warned that should he not leave, he would be arrested … a struggle took place between Mr. Kenfack and police as Mr. Kenfack was placed in handcuffs and removed.”
RCMP said it takes Kenfack’s allegations seriously and its complaints commission will make its own findings, independently.
In a statement, CATSA said “all procedures were followed” and that its investigation into the incident is complete.
“Any time that an alarm is triggered at the walk-through metal detector, passengers are required to undergo further screening, which includes a physical search,” the agency said.
“A review of CCTV footage shows that no other passengers triggered an alarm during the time in question and CATSA strongly refutes any claim of racial profiling.”
The mischief and disturbance charges against Kenfack were dropped in September. The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service told CBC that charges are not pursued unless there is a likelihood of conviction and the matter is of public interest, and that the case against Kenfack did not been the standard for prosecution.
Retired RCMP sergeant Alain Babineau, now director of racial profiling and public safety for the Red Coalition, said Kenfack deserves accountability and that a criminal investigation should be opened.
“He was berated. He was insulted,” Babineau said. “Those charges were laid out of spite and were baseless.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.