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Q&A: New Montreal police chief vows to foster 'human-to-human' dialogue between police and minority communities


Fady Dagher was officially named head of the Montreal police service (SPVM) on Thursday.

Previously the Longueuil police chief, Dagher was appointed following the early retirement of former SPVM head Sylvain Caron.

Dagher, who is Lebanese, is the first person of colour to take on the role.

He has pledged to promote community outreach and prevent racial profiling at a time when trust in the SPVM is low among minority communities.

He discussed his goals in an interview with CTV Montreal anchor Mitsumi Takahashi.

Watch the video above for the full interview.

New Montreal police chief Fady Dagher takes the departmental flag from Mayor Valerie Plante after being sworn in during a ceremony, Thursday, January 19, 2023 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

CTV: Many of the minority groups here in Montreal say they don't trust the police. They've been told before that things will change. So why should they believe it's going to be different this time?

Dagher: Well, I'm going to give everything I have to make sure that things will change. I've been working on issues of trust with the community for so many years. We did have some success; we did have some failures.

I think we're going to need, from both sides, patience, trust and courage. To come in with humility, openness. I'm sure we're going to find some solutions.

Is it going to be perfect? I don't know. But one thing is for sure, and trust me: I'm going to do my best to get closer and closer to the community and make sure that the trust comes back and try to build these bridges between the police and the community.

It's one of my causes. I've been doing this for the last 30 years.

CTV: You talk about the trust issue, but people are bound to be wondering: Who do you serve? Should there be a conflict between the police and the community, which group would take priority for you?

Dagher: For me, it's trying to understand both realities -- what's going on inside the community, the complexity of the community, how to serve them in the 21st century. While at the same time, I want the community to understand the reality of the police department and the police career.

When I came in in 1990, compared to where I am now in 2023... The criminal issues are still happening, but the social issues -- the distress of the people, mental health -- are extremely complex, and police officers are facing this daily. And we don't have the right tools to be able to face the complexities. And sometimes, we are judged so fast by the public, the community and the media.

So I think we need to create that dialogue between the community and the police to try to understand what's going on on one side, and what's going on on the other side.

I can't do this alone. I need my team with me, and I need the community with me. We need to be all together. Because there's no way that Fady Dagher is going to be able to accomplish that kind of mission on his own. I've been doing this in Longueuil, and it worked well.

CTV: You're known for being very innovative, you have a lot of new ideas for policing. But you also know that police culture can be very difficult to change. Do you think you can get all your officers behind you?

Fady Dagher: To get everybody behind me, it's going to take a while. But starting to identify the ambassadors, that's going to happen very soon.

Yes, you're right, the culture's pretty close and we protect each other. But also, many of us want to open up to the community. So, it's about finding the right rhythm inside the police, getting more good ambassadors.

Doing policing the old way, it still works sometimes, but not all the time. So we have to be able to combine the two cultures: the combattant du crime, and the police de concertation. Both of them have their role.

Think about all the shootings that have happened in Montreal -- there's no way I'm going to be able to work only on prevention. We're going to need some repression. We have to find the right balance between the repression and the prevention.

CTV: If you could point to one thing wrong with the relations between the SPVM and the communities it's supposed to serve, what would you say that is?

Fady Dagher: It's fear. There is a fear between the community and the police and the police and the community. As long as we stay at a distance and as long as we don't talk to each other, that fear's going to be present.

When they start having dialogue, suddenly, human-to-human, there's no colour. There's no social class. They're the same people, human-to-human, talking to each other. But there's no way we're going to be able to accomplish it without sitting together.

CTV: For the cultural communities and minority groups that are watching you now, what is your message to them?

Dagher: Give us a chance. Hope. Let's slowly, slowly build the trust. It's going to take time. I don't believe that, because I'm here, it's going to be changed tomorrow. But I believe -- and I felt it, and I went through it in a different department of Montreal and Longueuil -- that this really works when we sit together. Give me a chance, me and my team.

This interview transcript has been edited for clarity and length. Top Stories

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