Commentary  Stop the SPVM’s abuse of power

Earlier this year, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) shot and killed a homeless man at a downtown metro station. But, the death of Farshad Mohammadi is only one of many examples of police violence in Montreal. Since 1987, the SPVM has wrongfully killed more than sixty people and has regularly deployed harmful weapons such as tear gas and flash bangs on protestors. The SPVM’s violent tactics were even noted in a 2005 United Nations Human Rights Committee report. Systemic abuse of police power in Montreal is a grave problem that must not be ignored.

While the mental and physical health services available within our community for survivors of police brutality are valuable, the problem is one of prevention – the Quebec government must take concrete steps to stop police brutality. One proposal, by Security Minister Robert Dutil, is Bill 46, which would establish a civilian oversight bureau responsible for investigating incidents in which police conduct leads to death or injury. However, in its current form, Bill 46 is insufficient in preventing police misconduct.

First, it is inadequate because the bureau would only work alongside the current system of police inquiries. Under the existing system, one police force investigates another accused of involvement in a violent incident. This system does not encourage impartiality: between 1999 and 2011, 339 investigations into police conduct led to only three indictments. In other provinces, such as Ontario, police investigations are carried out without police involvement.

Another problem in this system is that police brutality often occurs in marginalized communities, whose members are typically reluctant to cooperate with police investigations. However, these communities seem to have good reason to not cooperate with police.  According to the SPVM’s own statistics, approximately 30 per cent of young black men in the Montreal North borough were subject to police identity checks between 2006 and 2007, while only a mere five to six per cent of young white males were.

Furthermore, the proposed civilian oversight bureau will only investigate police violence. Other forms of police abuse, like racial profiling – a common practice of the SPVM – will not fall under the remit of the proposed bureau.

This year, we have seen the SPVM continue to regularly abuse its power and commit acts of police brutality. We must stop these abuses, and the first step to doing that is to independently and thoroughly investigate every instance of police brutality and misconduct.