Quebec police raise eyebrows with sarcastic responses to online critics
Surete du Quebec spokesperson Guy Lapointe
Quebec provincial police defended their new social media policy Monday after they raised eyebrows with sarcastic responses to comments on the squad's Facebook page, including one in which a police staffer described a commenter as a "moron."
The response from the police appeared to mock a citizen who criticized the force's summer road safety campaign.
"Check out the moron who takes himself for Gilles Villeneuve!" wrote the person manning the force's Facebook page, in a reference to the late Grand Prix racer.
In a response to another comment, the police account suggested those who don't respect the highway code should calculate the price of a ticket in their vacation budgets.
Chief Insp. Guy Lapointe, head of communications, said the force recently changed its social media policy by using humour and sarcasm in order to draw greater attention to its safety campaigns. Police want to engage with a younger audience that doesn't interact with traditional media, he said.
For years, Lapointe explained, the force had posted generic public service messages on its page, about things such as winter road conditions, moving day safety or the summer vacation ticket blitz.
Citizens felt the warnings were patronizing and that the police were "talking down to them," Lapointe said in an interview.
In response, the force decided to changes things up. For this year's moving day, July 1 -- an annual tradition in Quebec -- the police posted "cartoonish" pictures of grossly overloaded vehicles along with a reminder to properly secure belongings. The post was widely shared, he said.
Lapointe acknowledged, however, that some of the recent police responses went too far. Staffers shouldn't use derogatory terms such as "moron" when interacting with the public, Lapointe said.
"The challenge now is to find the right way to go about this -- obviously it's such a major change," he said. "There's bound to be adjustments along the way."
But, Lapointe said, while the force is open to criticism, it would continue to push back with sarcastic and even abrasive language towards internet trolls engaging in what he called "delinquent behaviour."
"Any idiot who comes along and wants to start saying, 'People should drive at the speed they want, and all you're doing is trying to raise money for the state' -- I think we need to tell them, 'No, buddy, that's not what it's about. It's about safety."'
Lapointe said the public's response has been mostly positive, and the force's Facebook page has gained over 6,000 new followers since the new editorial line was adopted last month.
He said while it doesn't please everyone, the approach is achieving its main goal: to get people discussing road safety.
And while most of the commenters on the police's Facebook page appeared supportive of the police's approach, some suggested the comments were unprofessional and childish.
The critics included Jonathan Blais, who said authority figures should not disrespect the public.
"A government institution should not have the right, ethically, to be derogatory and sarcastic," he said in a Facebook message. "If we accept this, the next thing will be field agents who will give themselves the right to act that way and it will aggravate situations during interventions."
Other Canadian and American police forces have been experimenting with humour in their feeds in order to increase their social media traffic and draw attention to serious issues.
The Kensington Police Force in Prince Edward Island, for example, has drawn worldwide attention for its humorous posts.
It drew over 1,700 shares last year for a Facebook picture posted on April 20 -- international cannabis day -- that showed off the force's supposed enforcement strategy: a simple trap consisting of a cardboard box, propped-up by a stick, with snack foods and video games as bait.
Not all Kensington police posts have gone over so well, however.
The force had to apologize in 2016 after for a post that said drivers arrested for drinking and driving would be forced to listen to the Canadian band, Nickelback.