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