Since Pauline Marois’ announcement that the Liberal tuition hikes would be reversed, many involved in the student movement have been quick to claim victory. This victory must not be taken at face value: it was just a few short weeks ago that Université de Montréal students reentered class under the surveillance of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). After more than 3,000 arrests and an untold number of incidences of police brutality, many protesters remain caught in a system that favours policing over justice.
The most dramatic and severe instances of police abuse of force during the student strike shed light on an issue that will not dissipate with the conclusion of the strike. Aside from daily protests in Montreal – which varied in intensity and number of arrests – the protest at the Parti Libéral du Québec convention in Victoriaville ended with the police inflicting serious injuries on protesters due to the chemical irritants and rubber bullets that the Sûreté de Québec (SQ) used against demonstrators. Yet, the SQ felt the steps they took to repress this political mobilization were justified, with their spokesperson stating they demonstrated “professionalism, rigour, and discipline.” While Victoriaville represents one of the most dramatic manifestations of police violence, overreactions such as this characterize the impunity with which police act.
According to La Presse, 193 complaints about police conduct were filed between January and July of this year (16 complaints resulted from the events at Victoriaville alone). It was recently announced by the Police Ethics Commissioner that 46 per cent of these complaints have already been rejected or subject to conciliation. Even before the student strike, the SPVM’s track record of taking responsibility is bleak: between 1999 and 2011, only three indictments came out of a whopping 339 investigations. Currently, investigations into police misconduct are performed by another police force. In 2010, a report by Quebec ombudsman Raymonde Saint-Germain revealed that police inevitably are biased when evaluating fellow officers’ alleged misconduct. It is no surprise that police have defended the current system.
Police violence is an unabating issue; since 1987, the SPVM has wrongfully killed more than sixty people. Methods for handling such abuses must be reevaluated. Such a nepotistic structure of supposed accountability is not conducive to actual justice – this is evident from the enduring abuses. Other provinces, such as Ontario, have arguably more equitable practices of regulating police wrongdoing through citizen oversight committees. The challenge to police favourability, however, is minimized by the fact that former officers serve on these oversight committees. Police power must be checked. The surge of complaints filed in the wake of the police brutality of the student movement should be handled ethically. Until the police are removed from their own judgement process, the injustice will continue. A demonstration against the SPVM’s involvement in the student strike is planned for October 6, to begin at Place Émilie-Gamelin at 8:30 p.m..