Baby Steps: Why the Montreal Police need to accept our cameras before they get their own

Well, the Montreal Police seem to be on a roll this year. On January 2nd, one of the coldest days Montreal had in a long time, we got a video of an SPVM officer Gauthier threatening to tie a homeless man to a poll outside for an hour:

Then, faster than you can properly spin this as an isolated indecent with one bad apple, we get another video. This time, police enter a McDonalds and walk past the camera, then, with no time for any type of verbal confrontation, they’re back in view, shoving a group of teens in the opposite direction when one cop takes a swing at one of the kids.

Shortly after the first video started spreading on Twitter and Facebook, both Mayor Denis Coderre and the SPVM brass through spokesperson Ian Lafrenière came out against the officer ‘s actions, promising an investigation. Lafrenière reaction to the second video was different, according to him it lacks context.

I honestly don’t know what context could possibly have to do with it. No one is debating whether or not the teens deserved to be ejected from the McDonald’s, only the way the police chose to do it. Here’s how the cops are supposed to handle something like this: first they try talking to both the teenagers and the person who called them, then they determine what needs to be done, then, if they determine the teens need to leave, they ask them to and only if they refuse, they use force. In the video, it goes from the police entering to cops throwing punches in a matter of seconds:

True, videos can be doctored (though I highly doubt this one was) and don’t always tell the whole story. That’s why SPVM brass and the Police Brotherhood are considering equipping all officers with cameras.

While I believe that all police interventions should be filmed, I’m not sure this is the way to do it. More specifically, I don’t think this should be the first step.

Everybody already has the right to record police actions, though you wouldn’t know it talking to some cops. I’ve personally witnessed an SPVM officer tell someone that he can’t film him only to be corrected by a supervisor later on. Countless activists and independent media had police tell them they couldn’t film during the student protests. More recently, officer Gauthier didn’t seem aware that the man behind the camera had every right to record his intervention with the homeless man.

Those are just a few examples of Montreal Police either acting out of ignorance of citizens’ rights or knowingly lying about them, but there are countless more. This needs to stop before progress can be made.

First, every person needs to know their rights. Privacy Lawyer has a good primer, the gist of it is that we can film the police anywhere, any time with a few exceptions. Next, the SPVM needs to teach their officers that people have a right to film them at work and those people are, in fact, their bosses. Then, only once the culture has been changed, can we talk about the SPVM putting cameras on cops that may help show a more complete picture of what happened.

Before we equip our police with cameras, we should equip them with basic knowledge that anyone can film them and it’s perfectly okay.

* Top image by Jay Manafest

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