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Shallow: Shaken Confidence in La Service de Police de la ville de Montréal (SPVM)

June 26, 2011

copsonstdenisMid-June marks the start of festival season here in Montreal. Our annual Just for Laughs, Nuit Blanche, Fringe and Jazz festivals draw not only tourists, but a sense of community, festivity and pride shared by all Montréallers.

During summer 2010, I toured briefly along with a group of street acrobats and event organizers, gathering impressions from tourists, festival workers, those at their leisure, and the businesses affected by road closures. At the time, construction was the major impediment for celebration on St Catherine Street. This year, it seems to be the Montréal Police dampening our spirits.

“Mario was never, never physically aggressive. He never hit us, never hit anybody (or our clients) or anything. So we never had any reason to predict that something like this would happen” says Lise Ouellette, a coordinator for Acceuil Bonneau, of one of the two people killed by Montreal police on June 7th. Acceuil Bonneau is the charity-based homeless shelter that housed Mario and many others in similar situations. Abandoned psychiatric patients and unemployed migrants frequently resort to sorting through waste to collect deposit money, and are housed in downtown shelters locations. On Wednesday June 8th 2011, Montréal police shot and killed two pedestrians on St. Denis while responding to a call about a man strewing garbage along the street and in possession of a sharp object—the small pocket knife Mario used to open garbage bags.

The dead included Mario Hamel, and a doctor on his way to work who was hit by ricochet. The next day, there was another report of a fatal police shooting in Rawdon, a town to the north of Terrebonne. This time provincial police were implicated.

The Montreal Anarchist Library and La Coalition contre la Répression et les Abus Policiers (C.R.A.P.) have been organizing demonstrations against police brutality in Montréal since the death of Freddy Villanueva, an 18-year old resident of a Montréal-North neighbourhood shot by police while playing dice with friends at a park on August 9th 2008. The officer who killed Freddy (Jean-Loup Lapointe) claims that he reacted out of self-defence, though there remains a great deal of public scepticism.

The event raised questions about police profiling and attitudes towards residents of certain boroughs, as well as the apparent futility of having the provincial police continue to carry out such investigations internally. Although La Coalition’s demonstrations attracted only a hundred or so protestors at first, increased reports of misuse of police force have spurred a renewed and growing demand for transparency during probe investigations and strong annual participation in anti-brutality rallies. Despite public outcry, the police self-investigation concluded that the officer who fired on Freddy acted “accordingly”.

This summer the SPVM and La Sûreté du Québec must take significant steps to regain the confidence of Montréallers, or it will be event organizers (be it rallies, or festivals) who will shoulder the burden of unrest. As thousands spend their nights on closed main streets, order depends on the willingness of the crowd to respect the authority of the law. Incidents which call into question the fatal use of police force, particularly on suspects who do not possess firearms, must be investigated independently and not left to the discretion of the provincial police. As this is written, the four police involved in the shooting of Dr. Patrick Limoges or Mario Hamel have been questioned by neither police nor the press. They have been isolated; all four reported to be suffering nervous breakdowns. It has since been reported that a camera stationed at nearby Université du Quebec captured the event, and that the video shows Mario twice charging at police. The source of the original report and the video are still unknown, and the video itself has yet to be made available.

The common question here is an obvious one: With their training, armour and tasers, why are Montreal police firing guns on teenagers and the old and mentally disabled? In the midst of police union strikes citing wages that do not reflect the dangers of police work in Montreal, the causes of that danger are neither investigated nor acknowledged. As long as La Ville de Montreal treats transients, squeegees, and youth from poor neighbourhoods as lesser citizens by regarding their deaths as insignificant, mass resentment towards Montreal police will manifest in ever-growing public response.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Fran permalink
    June 26, 2011 2:51 pm

    Alrighty, just a quick comment, first off, the man who died was not a doctor, he simply worked at the hospital. Also, while the death of Freddy Villanueva was tragic, the fact that his brother is pretty much a self proclaimed gang member explains, but does not justify the trigger happy response of the police in that case.

    It sucks, but it happens. In the case of the death of Mario Hamel and Patrick Limoge, well that’s what happens when you give men no other alternative when they are attacked than to shoot to kill. Essentially, this is the reason that I’m all in favour of tazer guns. Hey, it hurts, but you’re a lot more likely to survive it than a bullet in the chest.

  2. July 2, 2011 4:48 pm

    CTV said doctor, though that might as well be left to be edited to suit the results of the internal inquiry.

    That’s precisely the point about Freddy though, he was unarmed and having his brother in his presence at a public park does not warrant being fired on. Tasers or not (as they were unable to report the absence/presence of when directly asked by the press, in the case of the shooting of Patrick and Mario) four police should have been able to disarm an elderly man without resorting to firing three rounds.

    The desirability of taser use is another issue completely.

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