Montreal police tickets fines curfew ca Ça va bien aller

Quebec gets punitive, encouraging police abuses and snitch culture

An editorial about François Legault’s paternalistic, authoritarian approach to the enforcement of COVID-19 health measures.

This week Quebec Premier François Legault, channeling his apparent inner Maurice Duplessis, publicly urged police officers to issue more tickets for alleged COVID-19 pandemic violations. His remarks were backed up, a few hours later, by a Quebec-wide emergency alert warning ominously that “police presence has been increased.” 

Urging the police to write more tickets is not rooted in good public health policy, but rather a paternalistic and authoritarian reflex. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Quebec has issued, by far, the most tickets for alleged violations of health directives, and yet Quebec is far from being any safer than other jurisdictions where significantly fewer tickets have been issued. 

The police being deployed to issue tickets for alleged COVID-19 pandemic violations — at the improper urging of the Premier no less — invites police abuses. Those abuses will be felt most by the poor, marginalized and racialized minorities because the police routinely practise, implicitly and explicitly, social and racial profiling.

There are several publicly reported instances of abusive police ticketing all over Quebec during the COVID-19 pandemic, using health directives as an excuse. Some examples include issuing debatable tickets to the homeless in Montreal, the violent arrest and ticketing of racially profiled Black youth in Laval and the cruel ticketing of an eldery couple in Drummondville based on a snitch call. Alex McClelland, an assistant professor at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Carleton University, estimates that police forces in Quebec have now issued upwards of 6,000 tickets for alleged health violations during the pandemic, so there are certainly more examples of police abuses, many of which will emerge if tickets are properly challenged in the courts.

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Beyond enabling police abuses, Premier Legault is also reinforcing a snitch culture in Quebec, where people anonymously call the police on neighbours or people they don’t like. Anonymous snitching is inherently subject to abuse, especially in a society that — like any other society — has its fair share of racists, xenophobes and people with grudges.

The isolated actions of some far-right, anti-science conspiracy theorists in violation of sound health directives shouldn’t mean that society at-large gets soft on opposing abusive cops and police-state measures. We should also not get soft on protecting basic rights, especially our right to privacy and against abusive searches. The police still don’t have carte blanche to enter our homes, or to even question us. Our personal and collective rights to privacy are essential. Asserting them does not mean we have something to hide (not to mention that it’s legitimate to have something to hide). In only the most clear cases can the police find “reasonable grounds” to search a home, or demand an identity, but in daily policing, those reasonable grounds are often obscured.

The pandemic is a public health issue, not a policing issue, and there are obvious and effective ways to promote health directives and collective safety. This includes excellent public health education — that reaches different communities in creative and targeted ways — from trusted sources rooted in facts. This contrasts with the condescending public relations by an increasingly discredited Quebec Premier who continues to deny the factual reality of systemic racism while criticizing easy-to-mock conspiracy theorists.

COVID police

A priority measure to improve public health, and fight the pandemic, is to provide material resources to the most marginalized in society — including the poor, disabled, homeless and non-status residents. It’s become a truism of this pandemic that the people who are the poorest and most marginalized are the ones who need to work and take the most risks. Our collective health and safety, and our ability to fight the pandemic, is improved by addressing the structural inequalities in our society based on race, class, income, gender, sexuality, immigration status, disability and more.  

The need to provide more material resources and services to marginalized populations reinforces the importance of the growing demand to defund the police and instead invest meaningfully in public education and collective health. These actually constructive, non-coercive measures will exponentially improve our collective response to the pandemic, without reliance on abusive policing or snitches. ■

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