Host Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Samantha Gold discuss Quebec Premier François Legault’s seemingly immovable and uncaring paternalistic approach to pandemic management (and a bit of Montreal politics too).
Quebec Premier François Legault rejected calls from all opposition parties in Quebec’s National Assembly and the Mayor of Montreal to exempt the homeless from the province’s 8pm to 5am curfew.
In a press conference today, the Premier said that if there was an exemption, people who weren’t homeless would essentially fake homelessness (tell police they were) to be able to walk around at night without getting a fine.
On Sunday, homeless man Raphael André’s body was found in a portable toilet near a homeless shelter that had recently been forced to not allow overnight stays. This prompted the Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), Québec solidaire and the Parti Québécois to call on the premier to exempt the homeless from the province’s curfew.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante joined in the call this morning. It was her, though, that Legault directed his response, asking why she didn’t trust the SPVM (Montreal Police).
Legault stressed that the police aren’t there to ticket the homeless, but rather to direct them to the nearest shelter. Homeless advocates said that the SPVM had issued at least six tickets to the homeless in the curfew’s first week.
Protests against systemic racism and police brutality continue as thousands gathered at Place Emilie Gamelin last Sunday.
Protestors spent their sunny afternoon marching peacefully in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, reignited by the death of African American man George Floyd, who died in police custody for a harmless infraction on May 25 after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes as he pleaded for his life.
Floyd’s death sparked international outrage, with protests against police brutality and systemic racism uniting folks from across the world to take part in actions towards police reform.
Montreal’s second major Black Lives Matter protest since Floyd’s death, the event initially sparked local backlash after organizers, Nous sommes la ligue des noirs nouvelle génération, invited the Montreal Police (SPVM) Chief to join the protest. The decision was contested by locals, and a day later the invitation was withdrawn. In an open Facebook message, the organization wrote that “citizens are terrified of the idea that [the police chiefs] will be there.”
Still, the invitation did not stop police from teargassing the crowd around 7pm.
At 11am, after a two-hour solidarity event reserved for the Black community, the thousands of protesters, most following organizers’ directions to stay masked, began to move downtown.
Organizers offered free masks and gloves to protestors to maintain safety. For many, it was the first major outing since the COVID-19 pandemic halted large scale collective gathering at the end of March, though with a crowd so large it was difficult to follow the two meter social distance requirements.
Most protests held signs, with different messages; some more humorous, shedding light on the unity and togetherness of the situation while others alluded to the seriousness of the crimes. A simple sign, “8:46”, paid homage to Floyd’s death; it represents the amount of time Floyd suffocated under the officer’s knee.
Most protestors dispersed around 2pm, where the march ended at Dorchester Square, though many continued into the day to march around the downtown area, eventually coming face to face with a wall of police in full riot gear, shields, face masks, and rubber bullet guns.
Stanley Courages, a protestor at the event, said he joined in support of the Black Lives Matter movements. To him, it’s a symbol that things are going bad, “and going bad for a lot of people,” he said.
“The system is sick, but we all know that. Nobody has the nerve to say it out loud,” he continued. “This is nice to see, Black, White, Latin, a little bit of Asian… it’s nice to see all kinds of people. […] Somehow, some way, people can relate to it, the sadness, whatever the problem they have with this kind of system. So I’m here for that symbol.”
The spotlight is on what he calls the Black movement because Black folks have been put at the bottom since colonization, he said. But Black folks aren’t the only ones suffering, he explained.
“The black movement – the same thing as the Black Lives Matter – that’s what I see as a symbol that everyone is not okay with this system,” he said.
Pascale Lavache, another protestor at the event and who is Black, said she is marching for her nine year old son.
“I want him to not have to march when he’s my age, when he’s grown,” she said.
“I’m happy to see there’s lot of the youth is present,” she continued. “it’s not just black people, it’s everybody. Everybody feels the injustice. Everybody feels the injustice, and I feel like this is a great movement and I’m happy to see everybody is standing up for this injustice that touches everybody. So I’m really marching for myself.”
To her, the Black Lives Matter movement is about standing up for what is right, and standing up for equal rights for everybody. “I think people need to understand that this is not just for [Black folks], it’s for everyone. And it needs to stop, this needs to stop. It’s a disservice for everybody when there’s no justice.”
Though most protestors broke up around 2pm, protests continued around the downtown area until around 7pm. It was then that police opened fire on the remaining protectors without warning.
The use of tear gas, a chemical weapon that is banned in war, has been criticized by healthcare experts. It irritates the tear ducts, causing coughing, and potential irritation of the upper respiratory tract; all symptoms that could further spread the COVID-19 virus, experts say.
Already a violent weapon, its use at peaceful protests in the Canadian epicentre of the pandemic is problematic at the very least. Local healthcare professionals have called for police to cease its’ use – to no avail.
Though the protests have shed light on the systemic racism present in the Canadian justice system, Premier Francois Legault said publicly that systemic racism doesn’t exist in Quebec. The thousands of protestors that hit the streets last Sunday would disagree.
From racial profiling, economic insecurity, and a lack of representation in all facets, Quebec’s longstanding whitewashing of its’ history and culture and xenophobia; including the contested Bill 62 which bands all religious symbols in public, prove a different, darker reality.
One way to ease the injustice, Lavache said, is for there to be equal representation at every level – in both media, politics, and police force.
“We need to have equal representation, whether it’s for women, LGBTQ,” she said. “Everyone needs to be represented. The more there’s equal representation, the more there will be justice.”
Last Sunday, approximately 10 000 people took to the streets of Montreal demanding justice for George Floyd and all the other victims of racist police violence. This Sunday there’s another local protest against police brutality.
Before we go any further, I’d like to address what I knew every newscast would lead with the following day right after it happened: Yes, there was some looting. A bit of looting and some broken windows, nothing that should detract from the valid and necessary reason so many people were out, social distancing as much as possible during a pandemic.
Lenny Lanteigne, owner of Steve’s Music Store, the main target of the looters last Sunday, gets it. He told CTV that he thinks the protest was necessary and while he’s obviously not thrilled people stole his inventory, he knows what’s important. “They’re guitars, not human lives.”
In the US currently, there’s a strong argument that some of the rioting is actually quite necessary to be heard and affect change. In just over a week, the story changed from “the cops are fired” to “we’ve arrested one cop and charged him with third-degree murder” to (just yesterday) “we’re charging him with second-degree murder and the three cops who stood by with aiding and abetting second degree murder”.
The looting last Sunday in Montreal, though, came across more like a mini hockey riot with mostly white dudes using the opportunity to steal stuff than something tied into the message of police racism. The SPVM officers kneeling to put on their riot gear before teargassing the crowd (which preceded the looting), though, was a small reminder that the police here aren’t really all that different than those in the states.
We’ve Got A Long List Too
The protest last Sunday may have been in solidarity with demonstrations across the US and now across the world, but it was also demanding justice for victims of racist police violence in Canada and Montreal too. For every George Floyd or Eric Garner, there’s a Regis Korchinski-Paquet or Fredy Villanueva.
We also have a serious problem with Canadian police indiscriminately brutalizing Indigenous people. From the so-called “starlight tours” out west to a recent local incident next to Cabot Square where a Native woman in distress had to deal with 17 cops and the SPVM (Montreal Police) canine unit before getting an ambulance, it seems like our police don’t think that Native Lives Matter.
Or Black Lives, apparently.
In a CBC study of fatal encounters with police of all levels across Canada over 17 years, Black and Indigenous people were seriously over-represented when compared to the overall population. Meanwhile a 2019 report commissioned by the City of Montreal revealed that the SPVM was four to five times more likely to stop Black or Indigenous people than whites.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did admit that Canada has a problem with police racism, after 21 seconds of awkward, probably staged, silence, while dodging a question about US President Donald Trump. Of course, anything that came after the 21 seconds, he knew, would get lost in the shuffle.
Quebec Premier François Legault, while supporting the protest, denied that systemic racism exists in Quebec. This from the man that, pre-pandemic, was all about systemically discriminating against minorities through Bill 21.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, to her credit, admitted that systemic discrimination does exist in our city. The question now becomes what she is going to do to fight it.
After initially opposing outfitting police with body cameras, she now says it will happen as soon as possible. This is largely due to pressure from boroughs like Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce and the public.
The Spotlight and the Shadows
Body cameras on police would be a welcome improvement, because unlike their counterparts south of the border, our police are camera-shy when it comes to race-based brutality. This helps our political leaders propagate the lie that violent and murderous police racism is a shameful American problem, but there are only a few bad apples here.
In the US, violent racist cops are brazen and kill in the daylight, either not caring who is watching or filming or hoping to be the next white supremacist champion or MAGA hero. George Zimmerman has fans and he wasn’t even trained.
Here, they’re just as brutal, but know to avoid the spotlight as much as possible. For the person on the receiving end, though, the result is the same.
With the only real-world empire most of us have ever known burning before our eyes and crumbling into a failed state, the kind the US would usually think of invading, it’s easy to get distracted. When we see peaceful protesters teargassed and assaulted by gleeful cops, it’s easy to forget that we have problems here too,
Solidarity with those fighting to get out from under Trump’s boot is essential, but remember that the underlying problem of racist police violence is a Canadian one, too.
The next Montreal Anti-Police Brutality Protests starts Sunday, June 14th at 11am at Place Emilie-Gamelin
Photos by IK (see the album)
Protesters in Montreal are no longer required to provide a route to police. The Quebec Superior Court invalidated section 2.1 of Municipal Bylaw P-6 which was added at the height of the Maple Spring student protests in 2012 by then-Mayor Gerald Tremblay.
Over the past few years, Montreal Police (SPVM) used this provision to kettle and ticket protesters and to stop marches minutes after they started. The annual Anti-Police Brutality March being a frequent target.
The Quebec Superior Court had already invalidated Section 3.2 of the bylaw, the provision banning masks at protests, back in 2016. In the same ruling, the court put some restrictions on 2.1, but didn’t eliminate it entirely.
Not content with a partial victory, the plaintiffs, which included protest mascot Anarchopanda, decided to appeal. Today they won and the problematic parts of P-6 are gone and the court’s decision is effective immediately.
“Let’s not forget that this victory belongs to our comrades who take to the streets and risk police and judicial repression to fight for all our rights,” Sibel Ataogul, one of the lawyers fighting the appeal said in a Facebook post, adding: “Despite victories, judiciarisation is not the solution. Only the struggle pays.”
* Featured image by Chris Zacchia
When it comes to issues of racism and police brutality, Canadians suffer from a bad case of denial. We think these are the problems of people in the United States despite evidence of cops brutalizing Indigenous Canadians and spraying peaceful protesters in the face with pepper spray. It is particularly clear when attacks by authorities come completely unprovoked and the perpetrators scramble to protect their own while the victim is left permanently damaged.
No case demonstrates this so clearly as that of Majiza Philip.
“I was charging them with excessive force and misconduct,” Majiza said of her latest court battle with the Montreal Police (SPVM), a case she is now demanding be reopened. This followed a judge throwing out charges of assault, resisting arrest, and obstruction of justice levied against Majiza by the police in 2014.
Majiza Philip was not looking for trouble. She had been warned by family members in the past to comply with the police who have a habit of thinking the worst of people of colour.
What happened to her was not only a display of police brutality, but of gross injustice. It demonstrates the need for an Ethics Commissioner truly independent from our province’s police forces and the abolition of laws that protect the authorities when they deliberately hurt those they have sworn to protect.
This article will tell Majiza’s story and point out all the mistakes made by those who abused their authority to hurt her. This is her version of events. Since the burden of proof in criminal cases is so high and her account was the one deemed credible by the courts, there is no reason to doubt her story.
One night in November 2014 Majiza and her friend were at a rap concert. Security was high that night due to the rapper’s reputation for drugs and violence.
After the concert her friend was forced to wait outside while she got their coats. He was soon arrested and put in a police car.
Majiza went to check on him and was informed by authorities that he’d been arrested for loitering and public drunkenness. She asked which station they would bring him to and then lightly tapped on the window of the back seat of the police car to get her friend’s attention and see if he was ok.
Suddenly, she felt a push from behind. It was a large white male officer who accused her of assaulting another officer. Majiza backed away in fear and self-defense, rightfully stating that the officer had no right to touch her.
She pleaded with onlookers for help as undeterred, the officer slammed her down on the hood of a police car. With the help of other cops, he began wrenching her arms behind her back. At one point she felt pressure followed by her left arm going limp.
Majiza was shoved into a police car and was only spared the pain of her broken arm in the short time that followed due to the adrenaline from trying to protect herself. She pleaded with the police for help as the pain kicked in and her hands numbed, but they were dismissive.
“They laughed at me a couple of times,” she recalled, noting that they were more interested in discussing their dinner plans.
“It’s REALLY hurting,” she remembers telling the officers, “and they were like ‘Oh, whatever.’ I kept telling them there was pain.”
At this point Majiza didn’t know her arm was broken. All she wanted was the cuffs off so when it finally occurred to the police to ask if she wanted medical attention, she refused.
Prosecutors would later try and use this refusal against her at trial when any medical professional would testify that you have at least fifteen minutes before the pain and extent of your injuries finally kicks in.
It eventually occurred to the police to call an ambulance where EMTs confirmed Majiza’s arm was broken. Before she was lifted into the ambulance, the police attempted to have her sign a notice to appear at her hearing but high on pain and concerned that the document was actually a waiver exonerating those who arrested her, she refused to sign it.
“I’m not signing anything,” she told the police at the time, “I don’t know why I’m here. You never told me I was under arrest.”
She told them to send it to her by mail, and though she was legally entitled to it, she never received anything.
After a disastrous attempt to get care at Saint Luc Hospital – they denied her care because her pain interfered with her ability to speak to medical professionals in French – she was given a sling and a painkiller and sent home. She went to Saint Mary’s hospital in the morning where doctors immediately put her in a cast and booked her for surgery in the following weeks.
She now has a massive scar and pins holding her arm together, the pain returning when the weather is damp. It took over three months before she could go back to work.
Majiza has no criminal record.
In addition to managing a small café in Montreal, she teaches tap-dancing to children and works in her community. The latter jobs require police checks, which she clears every time.
The night she was arrested the only reason the cops had to believe she was a danger was the colour of her skin and the fact that she was at a rap concert. Though the arresting officers made no racial slurs, Majiza points out that though her friend was also arrested that night, he – a white male – was treated far less roughly by police and with a great deal more courtesy than she was. She believes the police have a racism problem as many of them come from places in rural Quebec where attitudes towards ethnic diversity are less than enlightened.
“I just spoke up for him,” Majiza said referring to her friend, “I didn’t assault anybody, didn’t do anything and I got my arm broken and I got hit with a bunch of charges. I can’t say it was racially motivated but I do feel like they treated me differently because I was black.”
When she was able, Majiza Philip contacted the Center for Research- Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a non-profit that works towards diversity and racial equality in Montreal. They helped her file a report with the police Ethics Commissioner who allegedly took her complaint seriously and filed a year-long investigation. Unfortunately, as per the current Loi sur la Police, officers are not legally obligated to cooperate with investigations of complaints against them.
According to Majiza Philip and CRARR, this needs to change as it affords citizens no real justice against police who abuse their power, protecting the cops over the people they hurt.
At her trial she was represented pro-bono by criminal justice lawyer Arij Riahi, facing charges of assault, obstruction of justice, and resisting arrest. Prosecutors tried to argue that Philip had weak bones, making them more susceptible to breaking. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant, as Canadian law has long since recognized the “Thin Skull Rule” making a defendant liable for a victim’s injuries even if they’re especially severe due to a pre-existing yet stable condition.
The trial concluded last month with the judge throwing out all charges against her, finding Majiza’s testimony far more credible than that of the officers who mostly spent the trial scrambling to protect themselves with the one responsible for her broken arm conveniently suffering from concussion-induced amnesia. The police never even mentioned at trial that they broke her arm – a fact the judge found outrageous.
Majiza is now demanding that the new Ethics Commissioner reopen her case. With the Ethics Commissioner who handled her complaint now suspended, perhaps she now has a chance of getting justice.
Though the Commissioner has never reopened cases, Majiza can demand it in the face of new evidence. She knows that incidents like hers are more likely to be avoided with the introduction of body cameras on officers, as well mandatory ethnic diversity quotas on the police force. In addition, she calls on the government to change the law and make a police Ethics Commissioner who is truly independent of the people they are charged to investigate.
The Quebec government has two choices here.
They can confirm the stereotypes that Quebec is racist and hostile to ethnic and religious diversity, or they can give victims like Majiza Philip the justice they deserve.
* Featured image by Kym Dominique Ferguson courtesy of Majiza Philip
Panelists Cat McCarthy and Der Kosmonaut discuss political art following the Trump victory and the legacy of the late, great Leonard Cohen with host Jason C. McLean.
News Roundup Topics: Pence at Hamilton, Montreal Police spying on journalists, historic building burned, Sarkozy losing power and the International Infringement Conference.
Cat McCarthy: Burlesque performer, artist and FTB contributor
Der Kosmonaut: Spoken word artist, author and blogger
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producers: Hannah Besseau (audio), Enzo Sabbagha (video)
Reports by Hannah Besseau
Recorded Sunday, November 20, 2016 in Montreal
Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons
Last month, Montreal’s international reputation took a hit thanks to Denis Coderre’s pit bull ban. This was amplified by celebrities speaking out against it. Now, we’ve caught the attention of famed whistleblower Edward Snowden, who tweeted this:
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 31, 2016
Snowden linked to a Montreal Gazette article about the Montreal Police (SPVM) spying on La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé’s cellphone. Lagacé had been looking into Escouade, the police task force dealing with street gangs and drugs, and the possibility that they were fabricating evidence.
The SPVM wanted to know who the journalist’s sources were. They asked for and received 24 warrants to monitor Lagacé iPhone, record its metadata and track his GPS location between January and July of this year.
These came out in the investigation into Costa Labos. The former head of Internal Affairs at the SPVM confirmed that they had been spying on Lagacé.
For Snowden, this story serves as a warning for journalists everywhere: if you don’t protect your phone data and GPS location, you may be putting your sources at risk. It’s also an indictment of the fundamental disrespect some police forces have for freedom of the press.
For Montreal, though, it means that once again, we are a shining example to the world of the wrong way to do things. And the ultimate culprit may just be the same one as the pit bull ban, or at least quite close.
As Alex Norris, City Councillor with Official Oppositon party Projet Montreal said in the same Gazette article Snowden tweeted: “We believe that it is inconceivable that an operation this sensitive would not have been approved by Philippe Pichet. If he wasn’t advised of this operation then it means he has lost control of his organization.”
If it goes as high as Pichet, then it’s not that far from the office of the man who appointed him: Mayor Denis Coderre. The sad thing is, spying on police is not out of character for Coderre, either.
For the second time in as many months, Montreal is in the international spotlight. And we don’t look good.
* Featured image of an SPVM officer going through a protester’s bag in July 2015 by Cem Ertekin
Around 300 people gathered in Montreal on Wednesday to protest police treatment of black people, both here and in the US. Over a thousand people have announced their intention to participate in a similar event this Saturday. The Black Lives Matter movement might be finally picking up momentum in Montreal.
Protesters met in Nelson Mandela Park on Wednesday, responding to the call of the Black Coalition of Quebec. The event was organised in the wake of the tragic events that unfolded last week in the United-States.
It was partly in memory of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both killed by the police in the space of a couple of days. Several people payed tribute to them and to the five police officers killed by a sniper during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas.
It was also meant to call attention to the way Montreal’s black community is treated by the police. Several speakers stood up on a pick-nick table to address the crowd; some were planned, some were spontaneous. A peaceful march followed and no incidents were reported.
If you missed all of this, you will have another occasion to show your support, this Saturday in Cabot Square. A new Montreal NGO, Twese, is inviting people to gather there at 2pm “to honour the lives lost and express our rejection of police brutality and any kind of racial prejudice.”
Cabot Square is a historically and socially meaningful place for indigenous people in Montreal. Co-founder of Twese Anne-Sophie Tzeuton says that the organisers are aware of the importance of Cabot Square to First Nations and that they want to honour it.
Police brutality and discrimination are also “a huge problem” for First Nations, she noted, “of course we intend to talk about it and we hope many will attend.”
The main objective of Saturday’s event, aside from rallying people to the cause, is “to offer concrete solutions that we can all apply to our daily lives.” Several speakers will take the microphone to that effect. Spoken word performances and other artistic tributes to lives lost in police shootings are also planned.
Tzeuton is happy with the unexpected popularity of the event on Facebook, but she fears that all this attention won’t last. “It often happens, after a tragedy: there is a lot of media attention at once, but it passes and then we forget.”
She hopes the current momentum can be used to discuss lasting solutions before the hype dies down.
Twese (“everybody” in Kinyarwanda) describes itself as a platform encouraging the diasporas to exchange ideas and further a collective reflection about various topics. It was created this summer by four young black women who have played active roles in black student associations in McGill, Concordia and Université de Montréal.
Discussing Canadian Racism
Quebec’s Minister of Public Safety Martin Coiteux reacted amiably to Wednesday’s protest: “We have to be very careful to protect the rights of all minorities in Quebec so I support people who are demonstrating for having equality of rights and we are completely in solidarity with what happened.”
However, according to him, “the situation here is, fortunately, very different to the United States.” He insisted on the importance of preserving “our model here of peaceful coexistence.”
How Different is it Really?
In 2013, the Office of the Correctional Investigator found that native people were alarmingly overrepresented in federal jails. In 2016, aboriginal youth made up 41% of people entering the justice system, despite representing less than 7% of the overall population.
Quebec’s commission of human rights officially recognizes that police forces practice racial profiling since 2010. An internal investigation published that year by the SPVM revealed that in 2006-2007, in Montréal-Nord and Saint-Michel,41% of young black men had had their identity checked, compared to 6% of young white men. The study also found that black people were more often carded for “vague” motives.
Just a couple of months ago, a black man named Jean-Pierre Bony was killed by the police in Montréal-Nord during a drug raid. Bony was shot in the head with a plastic projectile in front of the bar where the raid was conducted. He died in the hospital four days later.
“The only difference between Jean-Pierre Bony and what we’ve been seeing in the U.S is that there was no camera,” remarked Will Prosper, an ex-cop turned black rights activist, in a recent interview with Radio-Canada.
Many Canadians, like Coiteux, feel that the kind of systemic racism observed in the United-States doesn’t happen in Canada. According to Tzeuton, those claims are most often made by people who are racially or socioeconomically privileged.
“It is very easy for people who are not living those problems to claim they don’t exist.”
* Featured image of the April 6th Montreal North protest following the police killing of Jean-Pierre Bony by Gerry Lauzon (creative commons)
Montreal Police (SPVM) Inspector Costa Labos will be the subject of an investigation by the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) according to TVA. While one police force investigating another is common practice, what’s notable here is that Labos is the officer in charge of Internal Affairs and responsible for internal police investigations at the SPVM.
In 2014, SPVM officer Roger Larivière was allegedly seen by fellow officers meeting in a restaurant with journalist Stéphane Berthomet. Fear that Larivière was sharing confidential information prompted an internal investigation.
According to TVA, Labos is being charged with “rigging the truth” in order to obtain a search warrant to go after Larivière. He allegedly told a judge that Larivière had been accessing documents he wasn’t supposed to see, when, in fact, they were documents he would consult as part of his daily routine.
The SQ’s Guy Lapointe declined to comment or confirm the investigation when asked by TVA.
Labos still has his job as the head of internal police investigations and is not suspended currently. He was suspended for four days in 1998, though.
He was in the home of Evripidis Georgiou with five other officers looking for Georgiou’s son. When Georgiou’s wife told them that their son was not in the home, Labos yelled “Shut up you bitch!” (not a translation, that’s what he said) at her and then pointed his gun at Georgiou.
This was before Labos was put in charge of Internal Affairs, making him responsible for maintaining the internal integrity of the force. A job that would make him the principal officer investigating fellow officers for all sorts of missteps and crimes, like yelling “Shut up you bitch!” at the mother of a subject before pointing a gun at her husband or lying to a judge.
This is when I would usually offer a comment or put my own spin on things. But sometimes the facts do truly speak for themselves and drive my point home much more than any commentary or analysis could.
What do you think of the head of internal police investigations being investigated? What do you think about one police department investigating another? What do you think about promotion practices at the SPVM?
* Featured image: SPVM officers detaining a protester in July 2015. Photo by Cem Ertekin
Our 16th podcast is our holiday/2015 Year-in-Review Special. Regualr panelists Jerry Gabriel and Josh Davidson discuss some of the top events and stories of 2015 including the Canadian Election and the rise of Justin Trudeau, Just for Laughs, the Quebec anti-austerity movement and police repression, Bernie, Hillary and Trump, the Montreal music scene and more! Plus the Community Calendar, Sergakis Report and Predictions for 2016!
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Jerry Gabriel: FTB contributor
Josh Davidson: FTB food columnist
Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons
It’s not a new thing, really. In fact, it’s something people who participate in protests with less than a hundred thousand marchers have known for a while. It’s also something that numerous people (frequently visible minorities) who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time have been painfully aware of. Montreal police are out of control.
On Friday night, we got more proof that this, sadly, is very much the case.
Agent Provocateurs Get Identified and Violent
It was a night time anti-austerity demo. Montreal Police (SPVM), as usual, were out in full force. This time, though, some of them were part of the crowd, dressed as hardcore protesters ready to employ Black Bloc tactics. The police even admitted, after the fact, that there were undercover officers present.
One protester, Katie Nelson, who is well known to police because she is suing the department, the city and certain officers for political profiling, saw some of these fake activists trying to stir things up and make the crowd more rowdy and violent. A standard agent provocateur tactic: give the uniformed police and riot squad a justification to stop the protest and make arrests.
The thing is, Nelson recognized one of the undercover officers as someone who is a defendant in her lawsuit. As she told The Gazette, she confronted him with this and started to let her fellow protesters know that this man was a cop. He has since been identified by people who were there as Phillip Touchette, badge number 5886 (see featured image).
A few minutes later, she was on the ground. Someone wearing a mask had pushed her from behind before joining a group of police officers. She was released from the hospital early in the morning after suffering a concussion, a knee injury and a large contusion to the left arm which is now in a splint.
There are also reports of an officer brandishing a service revolver in front of a group of protesters.
A Threat to Society
One thing is clear. A police officer who decides to seriously injure someone who poses no threat to them physically and is not behaving in a violent manner clearly has unresolved rage issues. You get called out as an undercover cop, you walk over to the uniformed riot squad officers and disappear behind their shields. You don’t lash out or have your colleague lash out for you.
Maybe it was out of fear of looking like a failure to superiors or maybe anger over Nelson’s case. It doesn’t matter really. These cops should be given counselling at best, not a badge and a gun.
But is it really that simple? Can we simply chalk this up to a few bad apples? Will taking away their authority solve the problem? No, not at all. Though for the sake of society as a whole, they should be stripped of any authority.
Bad Choices at the Top: Laziness or Intimidation?
Forget for a moment the systemic problems inherent in an oppressive, militarized force used as defenders of the state. Instead take a look at the specific case of the SPVM and the decisions at the upper levels that went into what happened on Friday.
Nelson was able to identify the undercover officers because they were defendants in her case. The defendants in her case are all officers who were regular uniformed fixtures during the 2012 student protests in Montreal.
Think about that for a moment. Someone part of the SPVM brass thought it would be a good idea to use police whose faces are known to protestors as undercovers among those very same protestors. Can they really be surprised that someone identified one of them?
Are they really that careless? It’s possible. After all, the reason all those P-6 tickets got thrown out of court wasn’t because of the unconstitutional nature of the law itself, but the grossly unprofessional way the SPVM decided to issue the tickets.
Maybe they disrespect the protestors so much that they don’t think any of them will remember the faces that were wearing uniforms the other time they marched. Wouldn’t surprise me considering the kind of officers they hire.
This corner-cutting, half-assed attempt at a police state seems to be the Hallmark of the SPVM. Guess no one told them that totalitarianism is an all or nothing sort of thing. The word itself even starts with the word total.
Or, possibly, is there something else at play here. Something intentional. A special kind of asshole bravado, an intimidation tactic that boasts: “We don’t care if you can identify our undercovers, we’re going to send them anyways and if you call them out, you will be dealt with. Complain to the media all you want, people will ignore you.”
It seemed like that was going to be the case this time. Original reports from all media, except Concordia’s The Link (which did some really good on the spot reporting this time) treated Friday night’s events as routine: some violence, some arrests. It was only after Nelson’s story started making the rounds on social media that they started reporting the real story: undercover cops physically assaulting protesters for identifying them.
Whether the SPVM brass’ decision came from a place of laziness or arrogance, our response, as a public should come from a place of outrage. They let officers who clearly had violent tendencies they could not contain work undercover at a protest and as a result, someone ended up with serious injuries for merely performing a community service by identifying police who were in the protest to cause trouble.
The Montreal Police are out of control and something needs to be done.
* Featured image by Martin Ouellet
To be clear, I’m not against public urination if done discreetly, out of necessity and in a spot where no one else has to clean up the mess, like in a park or during a rainstorm. Sometimes you just have to go and don’t feel like buying a beverage to use a public restroom.
I’ve done it a few times, usually in a park while drinking with friends. I always made sure that I was out of the way and there were no cops in sight.
That’s because police can give you a fine for relieving yourself in public. And they do, or at least threaten to, especially when you’re homeless. The SPVM routinely use Montreal’s public urination bylaw to harass people who legitimately have no other place to relieve themselves except in public space.
Police officers, on the other hand, do have plenty of choices. There’s the washroom at the station, they have homes with toilets and there are businesses. I strongly doubt a coffee shop or restaurant would make an officer in uniform buy something to use the facilities.
And yet, we’ve seen not one, but two, photos of SPVM officers taking a leak in public, in full uniform. Not only is this wrong, it is, in fact, the pinnacle of hypocrisy. If these officers were out of uniform, I wouldn’t really care. They’d be just like anyone else and I’d understand.
But no, they are representing the SPVM and breaking a law that the SPVM enforces. It would be like the police cracking down on anti-austerity protests while themselves protesting..oh wait, they do that already. Take two. It would be like a group of officers celebrating giving out tickets for drinking in public by cracking a few tall boys in the park.
I don’t blame these specific officers, though they will probably be the only ones to face any heat if this story gets bigger. I blame a police culture that lets them think it’s okay as long as they don’t get caught. That it’s okay to use bylaws as weapons. Some drunk kid pissing in the park? He’s polite, so no fine. He’s not, use the urination as an excuse to search him for something else or just use the pissing to give him a fine if you don’t like him. A homeless person is taking a piss in public? Harass the hell out of them.
If the police stopped seeing themselves as tools of the state empowered to do whatever they want and realized that they actually worked for the public, things may change. That dude in the park, that homeless man you’re planning on harassing…they’re your bosses.
Maybe this can start if we stop seeing the police as a power to avoid or deal with only when we’re in large enough groups. If we realize that they are our employees, well, two of our staff have just been caught pissing in public while wearing their uniform. How do we deal with it?
Featured image by Stephane Freightrain via Facebook
In our second FTB Podcast, we discuss Printemps 2015, Quebec’s new student protest against austerity. Also, the role of the US, the UN and austerity in the coup in Ukraine. Plus, our first Montreal Community Calendar.
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Katie Nelson: anarchist, student, #manifencours participant
Der Kosmonaut: poet, political philosopher, geopolitical analyst, blogger @ der-kosmonaut.blogspot.com
Drew Wolfson Bell: sports Editor at the McGill Daily, third-year Education student
Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons
It’s all in the headline, really. To be completely honest, I was contemplating just posting that sentence with a picture and a series of arrows pointing up. Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?
A few months ago, Montreal police, along with firefighters, transit workers and other government employees protesting cuts to their pensions were all over the news. They weren’t hiding the fact that these cuts were part of Quebec Premier Philippe Couilard’s austerity agenda. I even remember seeing a fire truck blocking traffic with the word “austerity” painted across the part of the vehicle that holds the ladder.
So what happens when another group, striking students, decide to take up the anti-austerity cause? Well, we get rough cops, a bit of tear gas and a handful of arrests. And that was just yesterday, day one of the strike.
Now, while some police in Laval seemed to get that there is a correlation between students striking against austerity and their own cause, SPVM officers are parading around blissfully ignorant of the irony of wearing red squares on the back of their uniforms while crushing a peaceful protest against austerity. I’d laugh if I didn’t want to cry.
“On n’a rien volé, nous!” Well, you surely appropriated one symbol, whether by intent or accident, from a movement you are now trying to crush. This despite the fact that the movement you are fighting is itself fighting for what you are fighting for.
Yes, all protesting civil servants have a square with their protest’s mantra written on it plastered all over their vehicles and, in some cases, themselves. Whether by accident or some kind of cruel joke, the squares on police cars and now uniforms are red.
Surely someone in the police brotherhood must have realized the irony. Maybe they found it fitting at the time. It is anything but that now.
No No Solidarité
A few months ago, I openly wondered if it was possible to have solidarity with people who had clearly been enemies in the past. Now, it is abundantly clear that the SPVM officers don’t want to change their tune with protestors, despite fighting for the same overall cause.
They clearly don’t care about the broader issue of austerity. They just want their piece of the pie restored and screw everyone else.
While you may say that they’re just following orders, they presumably were a few months ago when a group of firefighters somehow made it into the council chamber at Montreal City Hall on their watch. The hypocrisy is not surprising, it’s just sad and very, very petty.
* Photo by Cem Ertekin
Lindsay Rockbrand got a $76 ticket from two SPVM officers for being in a public park between 11pm and 7am. Problem is, according to her, she wouldn’t have been there at 11:09, when the citation was issued, had the police not kept her there for over 20 minutes.
Rockbrand says the officers first approached her at around 10:50 as she was lying down on a bench on a traffic island, technically considered (and badly identified as) a park in Hampstead, a few blocks from her home in Cote-St-Luc. They proceeded to ask her what she was doing and when she wasn’t forthcoming and wanted to know what business was it of theirs, they wouldn’t let her leave, citing a number of reasons that didn’t end up on the subsequent ticket, keeping her in place for roughly 20 minutes.
She feels they were determined to fine her for something, anything, and effectively created the situation they eventually ticketed her for being in.
You can listen to her tell the story:
We didn’t contact the SPVM as their side of the story is pretty much spelled out on the ticket. However, if they or the officer in question would like to comment, they’re welcome to, either via social media or by contacting email@example.com and we’ll update the story.
Has something like this ever happened to you? Do you think it’s right for police to charge people for things that are only technically true because of officer’s actions?