Today, I would like to invite you to reflect on the problem of police violence and impunity here in Quebec, without even mentioning the United States.
Here in Quebec, the “independent” investigations office was created in June 2016, so that an institution outside the police force would be responsible for shedding light on the cases where a person dies or is seriously injured as a result of an intervention. I use “independent” with large quotes, since half of the people who sit there are former police officers.
According to the CBC, in the first three years of the EIB’s existence, 126 people suffered injuries serious enough to the hands of the Quebec police for an investigation process to be launched, including 71 people who died from it. At the end of these 126 investigations, none of the police officers involved were criminally charged. This is the result of our “independent” system. 71 dead in three years. One dead every two weeks. I believe it is entirely appropriate in Quebec to speak of systemic police impunity.
Quebec has a population of 8.5 million. The United Kingdom has 66.5 million. During the same three-year period in the UK, 10 people died in different circumstances as a result of police intervention. 10 people too many. But all the same, the question must be asked: why is a Quebecer 56 times more likely to die at the hands of the police than a Briton? With a few exceptions, the British patroller does not have a gun. Is there a racial and social profiling problem in the UK? Yes, like everywhere. But the same phenomenon does not kill as much, far from it.
But is it possible here to talk about the disarmament of the police force without being the subject of an anathema?
In Montreal alone, in 2020, the SPVM cost 665 million in municipal taxes. Our progressive town hall invests as much per year in the SPVM as in public transport. Why ? If we were to accept less the demands of our police service, which always wants more weapons and resources, how much money to reinvest in alternative emergency services, or directly in the communities that have been most affected by discrimination systemic and racial and social profiling?
Why, when we have cut several public services recently in the name of austerity, have we never had a national debate on police budgets? Why is it taboo? I don’t think we’ve ever bothered to demonstrate any relationship between their resources, their weapons, and changes in the crime rate in Quebec.
Sandy Hudson, of Black Lives Matter Toronto, raised the question with gusto this week: where is the demonstration that those who have received training in police technique are best placed to intervene when a woman wants to file a complaint for sexual violence, or when a vulnerable person experiences a mental health crisis? Could not a large part of 911 calls be better served by emergency professionals with training close to social work, for example, who would not need to be armed?
The people who have been raising these questions for a long time here in Quebec are brushed aside as if they were completely crazy. While it is madness, it is to imagine that the police services as we are used to in Quebec are the only way to organize a modern society, concerned with the well-being of its citizens. The nonsense is to refuse to learn more about the alternatives that offer interesting results, where they already exist.
The taboo of this reflection on the role, resources and accountability procedures of police forces comes from several sources. In interview at All morning last October, Marie-Maude Denis, journalist forInvestigation, confided in the intimidation games and the attempts to control the media carried out by the Sûreté du Québec. She said that the police treat journalists like ponies. Those who sign reports that they like receive an “apple”, or inside information. The others are left on the sidelines. Is it acceptable for a public service to play with access to information in this way to influence the way people talk about their work, especially when it comes to citizens injured or killed by law enforcement officers? ‘State? Other reporters surely have other information to reveal on these tactics incompatible with democracy. I invite them to break the silence. We cannot have a healthy public debate on the police if our journalists are intimidated.
I also believe that many elected municipal officials and their political advisers would have important things to tell the public about how the police and their unions negotiate their budgets and their arms race, reject reforms and stubbornly impunity for burrs committed behind closed doors.
Besides, why couldn’t ordinary citizens ask their questions directly to the police more than once by lunar eclipse? This is already the case in several other Canadian cities such as Toronto, where the police board meetings have long been open to the public.
When we stop to analyze our own problems only in the opera glass of the other-country-that-we-should-not-name, see the space for reflection that becomes available and the courses of action that take shape to move Quebec forward! The march against racism in Montreal last Sunday reached historic proportions. The political and civic response as we live will also have to get out of our usual shackles. Imagine all the lives we could save in the years to come.