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Groups demand ban on choke holds and tear gas by Montreal police
Protesters run from police during a demonstration calling for justice in the death of George Floyd and victims of police brutality in Montreal, Sunday, May 31, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
MONTREAL -- A coalition of 27 rights groups and three elected officials is calling on Montreal to ban police from using tear gas and choke holds in the city.
The group says choke holds have been banned in several cities in America, as officials admitted the practice was too forceful following violent arrests.
“There are simply too many deaths,” said Tiffany Callender from the Cote-des-Neiges Black Community Association in a statement. “The ban (on choke holds) shines the light on police violence and means police must use less brutal means of restraint.”
Montreal police said the use of "control by the neck" is taught in basic police training and well as in the police development program, and is part of the National Use of Force Framework.
"Depending on the degree of aggressiveness encountered, the use of this technique makes it possible to avoid police officers having to use their service weapon when their life or that of a citizen is endangered by the behaviour of a suspect," Montreal police said in an email." Properly applied, this technique allows a suspect to be brought under control with a greatly reduced risk of injury compared to the use of some of the intermediate weapons."
Since the death of George Floyd – a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer during his arrest – protests denouncing police brutality and systemic racism have taken place all over the world.
Floyd’s death is what led to the decision to ban choke holds in New York City, the groups say, despite the fact that a councillor proposed the ban six years earlier when a Black man named Eric Garner was killed in a similar fashion by an NYPD officer.
When it comes to tear gas, the coalition says its use against peaceful protesters is a danger to democracy, in addition to being hazardous for health.
“Riot-control agents like tear gas are banned from use in warfare under the Chemical Weapons Convention yet they may still be used for law enforcement despite its proven detriment to health of those exposed,” said Sharon Nelson, vice president of the Jamaica Association of Montreal, in a statement. “We want the City to immediately commit to withdrawing tear gas from use.”
At the Black Lives Matter events in Montreal over the past month, citizens reported being met with tear gas despite the events remaining peaceful. The SPVM tweeted at the time that officers began noticing illegal activity.
The coalition is asking for a full review of the SPVM’s weapons policy, as the group says it uses rubber bullets, pepper spray and electric pistols as well.
Chemical irritants (CI) are also part of the standardized model taught at Quebec police training, Montreal police said.
"Police can use CIs when they see a degenerating protest, endangering public safety. They are then used to intervene remotely with a group beyond their reach and which may represent a danger," said police in an email. "CIs significantly minimize the risk of injury to both protesters and the police. The alternative to chemical irritants would be a greater use of the stick and loads, with the significant risks inherent in physical contact."
Following the release of a report on systemic racism and discrimination in Montreal, which pointed to the city’s shortcomings, Mayor Valérie Plante announced plans to gradually equip the police force with body cameras.
In 2019, a report found the Montreal police force to have racial bias – officers are nearly five times more likely to stop a Black or Indigenous person than they are to stop a white one.
“There are more public meetings but less substance and no change,” Montreal North borough councillor Renee Chantal Belinga said of the SPVM. “Deadlines promised on dossiers like street checks are missed and a date only set after enormous public pressure.”