Monday, June 18, 2007


BECAUSE the Societe de Transport de Montreal already reflects the realities of an unjust society. Whereas a disproportionate number of STM users are people of colour, and an absolute majority are women, over 80% of those employed by the STM are male and over 90% are white. (Source: STM 2005 Annual Report).

BECAUSE young people - and especially young people of colour and working class youth - already experience violence at the hands of metro security guards. These young people are treated like criminals, fined if they do not have their student ID, harassed when they are going about their own business, beaten and arrested for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The case of Winston Roberts in 2002, who was beaten by six metro security guards simply for being a Black teenager who wanted to use the pay phone, is exceptional only in that some journalists chose to speak of it. For young people throughout Montreal such traumatic events are neither unknown nor unexpected - just ask around Villa Maria, Atwater or Parc metro stations around the time that school gets out and this will become clear.

BECAUSE the Montreal police already have a history of violence, most especially against people of colour and the poorest and most marginalized sections of the working class. From Anthony Griffin, who was "accidentally" shot through the head by police officer Gosset in 1987, to Martin Suazo who was "accidentally" shot through the head by police officer Garneau in 1995, to Mohamed Anas Bennis who was shot twice downwards through his body (as if he had been kneeling or sitting) by officer Bernier in 2005, who made a ludicrous claim of "self-defense"... over the past twenty years at least forty people have been killed, and countless more brutalized by Montreal police. Coroners, courts and politicians have all worked hand in hand to deny and semblance of justice for these victims of police murder.

"non-lethal weapons" are like "low tar cigarettes", in that they can kill you despite the fact that they are marketed as being somehow "safe". Non-lethal weapons are rarely used instead of guns - rather they are used to supplement the police officer's fists and truncheon, as a weapon to enforce compliance or to torture someone who has already been subdued. We saw this last year when Stephane Datey, a university student in Quebec City, was pinned to the ground, covered in a blanket, and THEN pepper sprayed. Datey died as a result.

BECAUSE tasers represent a further militarization of the police, and their use will increase the amount of police violence. As in the case of Stephane Datey, as in the case of the thirteen year old Entessar Mounem who was hospitalized after Montreal police pepper sprayed her last week, tasers will be used against people a police officer may be angry at, but has no reason to actually hurt.

We see this across the United States, where Amnesty International has called attention to the fact that "many US police agencies are deploying tasers as a routine force option to subdue non-compliant or disturbed individuals who do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others. In some departments, tasers have become the most prevalent force tool. They have been used against unruly schoolchildren; unarmed mentally disturbed or intoxicated individuals; suspects fleeing minor crime scenes and people who argue with police or fail to comply immediately with a command. Cases described in this report include the stunning of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Florida, following a dispute on a bus, and a 13- year-old girl in Arizona, who threw a book in a public library."

Just last week an Edmonton police officer received a conditional discharge for tasering a man who was polite and obeying police orders. The man had been stopped for jaywalking. This is not surprising and it will happen here too.

BECAUSE this is an ongoing trend. Already in 2001 Montreal SWAT teams were supplied with these electroshock weapons, then in 2004 the police operational centres were supplied ("we use them on prisoners when they get too violent," one cop bragged the media) and as of last summer the four "intervention groups" - the ones who are in charge of attacking demonstrations - were given the weapon.

But this is an important moment, as today for the first time police armed with tasers will be in charge of controlling and repressing "ordinary" working class people on a day-by-day basis.

BECAUSE we do not trust the police, and with every new weapon and power they receive we trust them even less.

For these reasons and many others, we are outraged, disgusted but not a all surprised by the fact that the STM and the Mayor of Montreal have chosen to allow police armed with tasers to patrol the Montreal metro.


  1. Your claim of racial discrimination against minority youths does not hold water to me. As someone who has been kicked off buses because I forgot my ID card and who has known students of all racial backgrounds being fined by the STM, AMT and other transportation agencies, I think it is simply based on ageism rather than racism.

    The rest of your claims seem to indicate that increased police presence will inevitably lead to more violence in the metro system, yet most citizens of Montreal are hailing this move as it will make ordinary citizens safer.

    Now, I have no doubt that there is racial profiling and racial discrimination within the police force and that some minority youths will be targeted, which is regrettable and in need of rectification (with stronger citizen oversight of police forces).

    However, the presence of police around metro stations will decrease attacks on citizens by gang members and other criminal elements, which is a good thing if we want more ordinary citizens to take public transit. It is a more complicated issue than you are making this out to be.


  2. Thanks for your comments and observations Justin.

    On the one hand you acknowledge that some "minority" youths will be targeted as a result of discrimination and racial profiling... and on the other hand you dispute my claim of racial discrimination... which seems somewhat contradictory to me!

    Perhaps you mean that it's not all people of colour who will be targeted, and that it's not just people of colour who will be harassed? In which case you get no argument from me: harassment of young people is already widespread, and will most likely become more so. And one aspect of this is definitely ageism.

    However, this ageist harassment - and sometimes violence - will not target everyone equally. As you pointed out, racial profiling and discrimination will occur with the police, and that means that ageism will have a racist character (although white kids may be oblivious to this).

    i think the difference between us may be that you see this as a minor problem, outweighed by the supposed benefits in terms of dealing with gangs.

    Obviously, i disagree, and here is why.

    It is the media that has hyped this "gang problem" in Montreal, and specifically in the Montreal metro. Carefully pursuing stories linking as many homicides as possible to gangs, even going so far as reporting on gangs which have no presence here but which the police warn us "might set up in future". Acting as if these gang-members were not also members of the community, and making sure to only promote police and prisons as solutions to this community violence.

    There is a problem of interpersonal violence in Montreal (though less so than in many cities), and this like many other problems falls disproportionately on poor people, the elderly, and people who look "different" or seem to have less power. But many of these same people are precisely the ones who are targeted by police as possible perpetrators (ok, not the elderly... unless they're homeless... but you get the idea).

    To many people the police are not just another gang to be afraid of in the metro, but are in fact the first gang they have been afraid of in the metro!

    At the same time, the main form of violence in the metro system remains sexual harassment. And not from gangs, but from guys who feel that it's a great place to pick up women, or oogle women, or cop a feel, or jerk off... not only is this not something that can be effectively targeted by a militarized police presence, but no real effort has been made to deal with the fact that male security guards have been amongst those who harass women! Instead it seems that the race of the one guard caught pimping is what was latched onto, not his gender and not the power he had thanks to his job.

    Police repression may make some people feel safer, but in the long run it makes everyone less safe. Police repression is not going to solve the city's problem with sexual harassment (like they do a great job of making women safe on St-Catherine street in summer, huh?), plus this combination of media hype around "gangs" and cheerleading for police makes us as a culture less able to deal with interpersonal violence and conflict... as a society we are nurturing a sense of collective agoraphobia... we end up passing the job of dealing with shit onto "specialists" like the cops, and then end up afraid to speak to our neighbours or people on the street when we see a problem.

    Then as "society" becomes more scary, the media tells us we need more cops... it's a vicious circle.

    So yeah, i'm not saying it (meaning safety) is not a complicated issue... what i am saying is that police are not part of the solution.

  3. Very sadly, the point i made in my comment here was borne out on Monday, when a woman was beaten in front of many people in Berri-Uqam station. Nobody intervened, not even the metro security guards who were on hand.

    Now it's the cops' job to "protect" people, and if they're not around nobody else will do a thing.

    And of course the cops are not a solution to the mass violence against women, much of which is diffuse and not nearly as important to the pigs as their little gang fetish.

    You can read more about this on my post today.