News | Rethinking police training

SPVM under fire for response to sexual assault, mental health crises

In late October, the Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montreál (FPPM) sent a formal report to police chief Marc Parent stating that the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM)’s firearms training and maintenance is seriously lacking – so much so that it poses a serious threat to public safety.

On October 6, the FPPM also published a press release demanding that the Commission des relations du travail take all the necessary measures to ensure the safety of the members of the police force. According to the press release, a majority of the Montreal police has been deprived of training in weapons handling since the closure of four SPVM shooting ranges in 2013.

“This neglect has ensured that the qualification rate of Montreal police in the use of service weapons was about 5 per cent at the end of 2013. The current rate is higher but remains unknown to the Fraternity,” the press release stated in French.

Firearm use and maintenance is not the only area where SPVM training has been said to be lacking. The Quebec coroner’s report on the January 2012 shooting death of Farshad Mohammadi, who was homeless and struggled with mental illness, stated that there needs to be more effective training for police officers in handling mental health crises. The SPVM also recently came under fire for its response to four different womens’ reports of being sexually assaulted by taxi drivers.

Gender and sexual assault

In October, an SPVM spokesperson warned that women should “limit their alcohol consumption and stay in control” after a series of reports from women of being sexually assaulted by taxi drivers. This response was widely criticized as an example of victim-blaming and indicative of the SPVM’s insufficient response to sexual assaults.

Indeed, police departments are often criticized for the way in which they handle sexual assault. In an email to The Daily, Frances Maychak, External Coordinator at the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS), outlined a few of the many factors that prevent survivors from reporting to the police.

According to Maychak, a fear of further violence, concerns about the legal process, trauma, relationship to the perpetrator, and issues of language, citizenship, and immigration can all impact a survivor’s decision.

“[Survivors may] fear violence from the police and/or negative/ violent experiences with the police in the past,” said Maychack, adding that many also fear being blamed for their own assault.
Communication barriers can also impact the ability and willingness of assault survivors to report to police. “Survivors may not speak the language(s) necessary to report their assault(s),” stated Maychak.

Preparation and sensitivity in other issues, such as language, can play a role in the use of force by police. According to Maycheck, attention to the specific needs of sexual assault survivors is crucial.
“It is extremely important that the police are educated on issues of sexual assault, take all reports of sexual assault very seriously, never disbelieve a survivor, and never blame a survivor for being assaulted,” she said.

SACOMSS has recently begun training a team of volunteers to accompany assault survivors to the police, as well as court dates and medical appointments.

The Collective Opposed to Police Brutality (COBP), an autonomous group that aims to combat police brutality, argues that the SPVM’s inefficacy at responding to sexual assault is a product of the patriarchy.

A COBP press release about police violence against women read in French, “Men dominate the army and the police, particularly in positions of command. Men generally have more money than women. Although there obviously are some women who occupy better positions than men, it is possible to speak of Quebec as a patriarchal system that divides society into two classes of unequal genders.”


Despite the implementation of initiatives that sought “to better respond to the many aspects of mental health and homelessness problems” detailed in the SPVM’s 2013 annual report, the homeless population remains a target of police brutality in Montreal. There have been reports of threats from the police for panhandling. Earlier this year, a member of the Montreal police shot and killed Alain Magloire, a homeless man who faced mental illness, after hitting him with a police cruiser.

In order to learn more about the relationship between Montreal’s homeless population and the SPVM, The Daily spoke to the Old Brewery Mission, an organization that works with Montreal’s homeless population. The Old Brewery Mission tries “to work with people to find better solutions, depending what issues they are dealing with.”

Old Brewery Mission Emergency Services Coordinator Neila Ben Ayed spoke with The Daily about the relationship between the SPVM and Montreal’s homeless population.
“Most of the time, it’s not violent; [however] sometimes [the police] lose patience, they can be verbally more aggressive with these kinds of people,” said Ben Ayed. “Homeless people need – how can I say that – they need a human approach.”

“[The Old Brewery Mission] has a great relationship with the police,” said Ben Ayed. However, she conceded that “they have to improve communication.”
“Maybe the SPVM has to improve their workers with more training with specific population issues, like homelessness,” concluded Ben Ayed.

SPVM media relations would not comment on the current training process for officers.