News  Camo sparks debate over police image

Working without a contract for two years, police union uses camo pants in a new phase of pressure tactics

Montreal police chief Yvan Delorme worried that the camouflage pants some members of his force are wearing– the latest pressure tactic applied by police to accelerate contract negotiations with the city – will worsen interactions between police and minority groups.

At an open meeting held by the Quebec Essential Services Council on September 24, Delorme said the pants would remind immigrants, – specifically Montrealers from Latin American Countries who had lived under military regimes in their home countries – of the violence and repression they fled.

Community organizations took offense to Delorme’s remarks, which they say are out of touch with the reality of minority interactions with officers.

Dan Philip, president of the Black Coalition of Quebec – a Montreal-based human rights organization representing the black community – was unimpressed with Delorme’s comment.

“It is unfortunate that when it’s convenient for [Delorme], he uses these instances to talk about how [the police] affect minorities,” Philip said. “[His comment] does nothing to bring into light police brutality toward minorities.”

Will Prosper, the spokesperson for Montreal Nord Republik – a community group that sprang up in response to the police shooting of 18-year-old Montreal North resident Freddy Villanueva – thought Delorme’s comment overestimated the power of camouflage pants to remind minorities of traumatizing past experiences.

“People aren’t in their country any longer, and camouflage pants aren’t going to make them feel like they’re back,” Prosper said.

The pants are the newest phase of sartorial tactics applied by officers in an ongoing labour dispute between the Montreal police union, la Fraternité des Policiers et Policières, and the city. For nearly two years, Montreal police officers have been working without a contract with the city, but have been unable to legally hold a strike because they provide an essential service.

Martin Viau, the Fraternité’s director of communication, explained that many officers opted to go with camouflage pants.

“The camouflage pants are popular because they’re more comfortable than the others. They have pockets, and it’s easy to attach their police belt to them,” Viau said.

The city issued a formal complaint to the Essential Services Council that the camouflage pants put the police in danger and deprived the public of their right to an essential service.

“The clothes they’re wearing aren’t police clothes, and that could confuse the public,” said Bernard Larin, a press attaché for the mayor, in an interview with The Daily.

Following the open meeting, the Council had a closed meeting – attended by council members, city representatives, two unionized police officers, and Delorme – in which it ruled in favour of keeping police officers outfitted in camo pants.

But Montreal spokesperson Celine Jacob stressed that the Council’s decision didn’t rule out the possibility that the pants could deprive the public of its right to an essential service.

“If it’s necessary, the Council could re-intervene in this file,” Jacob said, adding that the Council will observe how the camo pants influence the public’s ability to access police service.

Prosper also worried that the force’s colourful pants would particularly undermine their authority in Montreal North, an area where tensions between police and residents have run high since the August riots.

“When they wear those pants, it’s hard to respect their authority – they look like clowns,” Prosper said. “For any citizen of any race, it’s hard to take them seriously.”

Prosper stressed that the police should improve their interpersonal skills and tune into the pulse of the neighborhoods they patrol.

“If a police officer wants to play with guns, he should join the army. But as a police officer, you have a wider responsibility, because you have to interact with the population,” he said.

Montreal Nord Republik will present suggestions to the city in the coming months on how to improve interaction between the police and youths in the neighbourhood. Prosper complained that interaction between the two is limited to arrests and tickets. Prosper hoped the city would consider their proposal to have police officers assigned to the neighbourhood spend two weeks getting to know Montreal North teens at community youth centres.