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STM special constables to carry gel form of pepper spray to deal with violence in metro

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The Societe de transport de Montreal (STM) says its equipping special metro constables with a gel form of pepper spray to deal with violence.

The irritant would be used "as a last resort in cases where safety is at stake," said an STM spokesperson in a statement Friday.

It attributes the move to the "changing profile of people who find themselves in our facilities," adding that the use of force is necessary for about two per cent of constables' interventions.

The gel-based substance is better than spray, says the transit agency, as it disperses less in the air, meaning metro service is less likely to be disrupted by ventilation.

It says the gel is already being used in similar settings elsewhere in Canada.

"Police officers patrolling the subway and peace officers or constables in the Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa networks, among others, are equipped with these devices," the statement continued.

Staff equipped with the gel will complete a mandatory 10-hour training course to learn how to use it, said the STM.

‘THEY NEED MORE TOOLS’

Passenger advocacy group Trajectoire Quebec says STM officers have been dealing with a rise in violence incidents.

"Since 2019, it's almost doubled, so yes, they need more tools," said one of the group’s board members, Francois Pepin.

 A human rights advocate agrees the change may be justified.

"As a public transit user, as a metro user, I've seen certain incidents where you need a strong intervention because some people can pose a safety risk for other passengers," said Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR).

Two years ago, STM officers were given special constable status and are now subject to police ethics complaints.

Niemi says that adds a new level of accountability.

The head of public security for the city says he approved the change, saying the social context in the metropolis has changed, and the STM must adapt.

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