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A question of confidence

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

 

Montreal has cop fever—and I don’t mean in a girls-going-crazy-over-men-in-uniforms kind of way. As the city swelters, Montrealers are putting pressure on their police force (the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal or SPVM) to change their act on a number of levels.

On June 7, Patrick Limoges was struck and killed by stray bullet in a police shoot-out on his way to work. Cries of “gun-happy” Montreal police officers rang within and without the city. The following day, an estimated 300 people protested in Montreal’s downtown against what they considered an act of police brutality. Meanwhile, anti-police slogans plastered many parts of the city.

The incident and its aftermath were all too familiar to Montrealers. August 2008 was tainted with the shooting of 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva. Many Montrealers denounced it, too, as a case of an innocent victim falling to police officers’ abuse of power. And, as with the death of Limoges, a riot came the next day. Marches in remembrance of Villanueva have occurred every August since, with another planned for next month.

Fatalities at the hands of the SPVM seem to rile Montrealers more than any other incidents of questionable police conduct—and rightly so: a death caused by a person entrusted with the protection of civilians and the upholding of the law is utterly contradictory. It also has the greatest impact on citizens’ confidence in the police force. A Léger Marketing poll indicated that in 2007, 84 per cent of Quebeckers were confident in police. One year later (note: after the death of Villaneuva), that confidence had dropped to 72 per cent.

When I spoke with Quebec’s provincial ombudsman Raymonde Saint-Germain last week, she agreed that Quebeckers’ confidence in police is greatly influenced by the frequency of fatal incidents involving officers and, notably, how the investigations into these incidents are handled. Public criticism regarding the investigations into the Villanueva and Limoges deaths has arguably been as heavy-handed (if not more so) than the denunciations of the shootings themselves.

The Sûreté du Québec, the province’s police force, conducts all investigations into incidents in which police procedure and conduct is questionable (re: caused injury or death). That is, police investigate police. Such is not the case in most Canadian provinces. The problems with Quebec’s approach are too vast to describe in detail here and many are so obvious you can divine them yourself. In sum, criticism has focused primarily on the unequal treatment of police and civilian witnesses, the length of the investigations, and the final result: literally 99 per cent of Quebec police officers are acquitted of all charges.

In February of last year, Saint-Germain published The Québec Investigative Procedure for Incidents Involving Police Officers: For a Credible, Transparent, and Impartial Process That Inspires Confidence and Respect. Her main points: the Quebec investigative process in not credible, opaque, partial to the police force and, thus, causes a lack of confidence and respect on the part of the civilian population.

But I think Montreal’s heat wave when it comes to the SPVM is fueled by much more than botched investigations. There is a reason why we see riots the day after a shooting, compared with written complaints after a judge’s pronouncement of police officers as “innocent.” Montrealers have lost faith that their police force is there to protect and serve them; instead, they believe the practices of the SPVM have underlying motives that are incongruent with their idea of what a police force should be.

This year, SPVM created GAMMA: the Guet des activités des mouvements marginaux et anarchistes with the supposed mandate of protecting police officers against vandalism and assaults during protests. This tactical force was recently behind the arrests of four members of the Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes de Montréal for their involvement in this May 1’s International Worker’s Day march, and four members of the Association pour une solidarité étudiante for their March 24 and 31 demonstrations against tuition hikes. Both groups have denounced these arrests as attacks on their political beliefs, and have filed cases with the Quebec Human Rights Commission accusing GAMMA of discrimination.

This isn’t the first time SPVM’s handling of protesters has come under fire. A 2005 report by the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights asked the Quebec government to inquire into SPVM’s use of “mass arrests” during demonstrations. Critics say this tactic leads to unjust arrests, and inhuman imprisonment and interrogation practices.

Then, there’s SPVM’s Groupe Éclipse, a tactical unit set up in 2008 to tackle gang violence. More or less since its inception, the team has been accused of racial profiling. Add to that a recent report by the Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal which outlines how the SPVM contributes to the social profiling of the city’s homeless population and you’ve got a police force that’s about as appealing to deal with as a car that’s been sitting in this July heat.

I am hesitant to label the SPVM as “bad” in general, as many anti-police brutality groups have seemed to do as of late. Montreal’s wavering confidence is in fact detrimental to both its civilian population and those in uniform. Without trust, the former loses a potentially powerful protection and help resource; the latter, the ability to effectively perform its job with compliance from the public.

Maybe what is needed is collaboration between the two parties on SPVM procedural and on-the-ground fronts.

But maybe that’s a fantastical scenario I can only conjure up because of the heat.


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Natascia Lypny (Natascia Lypny)
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Member since Décembre 2010

About:

Natascia Lypny, a Montreal native, is a contributing member of the Halifax Media Co-op and sits on its editorial collective. She has also been involved with starting up the Montreal Media Co-op and interned at The Dominion in the summer of 2011. Currently, Natascia is a journalism student at the University of King's College entering her fourth year of study. She is also pursuing social anthropology studies at Dalhousie University. Natascia writes regularly for King's student newspaper, The Watch, and is the acting President of the Journalists for Human Rights chapter at her school. She is heavily involved with the King's Theatrical Society and other areas of school life. Natascia has freelanced, and interned at, several other publications across Canada, including The Coast, the Chronicle Herald and Spacing. Her work can be found on her personal website.

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