Political Profiling: The Habs, Instagram and the SPVM

They’re not even trying to hide it anymore. Montreal’s police force, the SPVM, is now openly engaging in political profiling.

Over the past few months, the cops have been enforcing municipal bylaw P-6, which outlaws any demonstration where no route has been provided and makes it illegal to wear a mask at a protest, every chance they get. Within minutes of a protest starting, no matter how big or small, SPVM officers surround, kettle and eventualy release the participants, handing them a $637 ticket on the way out. Last time they even confiscated beloved mascot Anarchopanda’s head.

Now this bylaw may be unconstitutional, but the SPVM brass and politicians like Mayor Michael Applebaum contend that it’s not that restrictive considering all protesters need to do is provide a route. But it’s now clear that only people they decide to discriminate against have to submit to this bureaucratic infringement on freedom of expression.

At a press conference yesterday, a reporter asked Police Chief Marc Parent how his department would treat hockey fans celebrating a hypothetical Stanley Cup victory by the Canadiens (it’s possible, go habs go). Presumably, they wouldn’t provide a route for their demonstration of support for the hockey team and that’s okay with the chief.

“We know very well,” Pare said in French, “that in that moment, we’re not there to ask someone their itinerary. It’s not organized, it’s spontaneous and that we know very well.”

You know what else is spontaneous? A student demonstration where the only bit of organization is where and when everyone is going to assemble. “Meet at Parc Emilie Gamelin at 8pm” is about as much pre-planning as “meet in front of the Bell Centre during the third period.”

So, a spontaneous demonstration of support for the Habs gets a pass whereas a spontaneous demonstration of disgust with the Marois government gets kettled? How can anyone justify this?

montreal police kettle

Well, maybe it has something to do with violence. Problem is that there was more violence and vandalism in just one night of hockey rioting the last time the Habs made it past the first round then there was in six months of nightly student protests. True, hockey rioters are just a few bad apples and don’t represent the broader fanbase, but so are those who caused the damage during the student protests. The “casseurs” don’t represent the student movement as a whole and the cops know it.

They also know that Jennifer Pawluck didn’t create the graffiti artwork depicting SPVM spokesperson Ian Lafrenière with a bullet hole in his head, she just photographed it and shared it on Instagram, much like an independent reporter might do. It didn’t stop them from bringing her from her home to the station and formally charging her with criminal harassment and intimidation of a police officer.

ian lafreniere graffitiDoes this mean that anyone can be charged for what’s happening in a photograph they post online? For a while it looked like that may be the case, but in light of how the chief claims the cops would treat a Habs victory celebration, it’s clear that the SPVM’s current tactics are much more sinister then a blanket oppression of the right to free expression.

It’s selective enforcement. If they don’t like you, they’ll charge you with something.

Cops may have been doing this for years, but at least they had the decency to try and cover it up and make token firings of the unlucky officers who got caught. Now the proverbial cat is out of the bag and they don’t seem to care. Their spokespeople are brazenly admitting to political profiling.

This is would be funny if it wasn’t so damn scary. The public needs to challenge this blatant discrimination and remind the police that they aren’t a gang loyal to each other but rather public servants who work for us, all of us, even those they don’t like.

* Top image thehockeyjunkies.blogspot.com, kettle image by Tim McSorley for the Media Co-Op

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