Police review nightly tactics amid troubling anecdotes
Published Wednesday, May 23, 2012 6:04PM EDT
MONTREAL - It's become a nightly pattern: students march, police declare the demonstration illegal, an ugly scene plays out on the streets of downtown Montreal.
Some troubling anecdotes of late have concerned police and demonstrators about the continual clashes between the two groups.
Nicholas Dutka said he was chased by police Tuesday evening after leaving a movie theatre at about 10 p.m.
He and about 100 others noticed riot police on the corner of Ste Catherine St and Mansfield St., said Dutka.
"The police started banging on their shields and started charging towards us," he said, relating how he ran into an alley and panicked.
Dutka said one woman fell in the altercation, an incident which has left him angry.
"To have to react in such a manner where you're banging shields at innocent people coming out of a movie theatre?" he said.
Veronique Bartkowiak experienced a similar situation Sunday evening, when she saw a violent protest unfolding as she was headed home.
"The (officer) took his equipment and he pushed me super violently and I fell into the hydro pole. I fell on my arms and my face," she said.
These types of anecdotes combined with the repeated nights of violence and arrests are raising questions about whether police tactics are appropriate or effective.
Montreal police responded to critics Wednesday, saying they are constantly reviewing tactics and police behaviour.
"Every day we're doing a debriefing about the night that we had and the way we can get better and do things differently," said Marc Parent, chief of Montreal police.
That includes examining videos that pop up on YouTube, including one showing a now-famous police officer and her alleged zeal with pepper spray.
"We are concerned, but we look at all of them every day," he said.
Police are proceeding with an internal investigation, as well.
Police operations expert Paul Chablo said when persuasion and warnings don't work, however, it's necessary to employ tear gas, pepper spray and charging police officers.
"The force should be equal to just what it takes to remove the person from the place but as there's an escalation in the force of the individual the officer can also use more force against them," he said.
Martin Courcy, a psychologist specializing in conflict resolution, said the situation is overwhelming.
"Police are being out-manoeuvred by the protesters. Overwhelmed," he said.
Police say the hundreds of arrests within the past days are not related to the new Bill 78, but instead fall under the new municipal bylaw.
"We have to understand it's not for the demonstrators, that bill, mainly it's for the organization or the person in charge of the organization," said Parent.
Police say if they can gather necessary proof student leaders are responsible for planning illegal protests, they will apply the law.