Breaking down police brutality

The 21th annual police brutality march held on March 15. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Former SPVM officer discusses police training, Concordia student reflects on brutality

Protesters marked the 21st anniversary of Montreal’s annual police brutality protest by taking to the streets of downtown Montreal on March 15 to denounce brutality conducted by the Service de police de la ville de Montréal (SPVM) and other officers.

Since the march started in Montreal in 1997, similar marches have sprung up in cities across Canada and around the world, including in Nigeria, Spain, France, Mexico, Germany, England, Belgium, Portugal and the U.S.

Many Journalists and concerned citizens who have documented police brutality have held the SPVM accountable for their actions. This includes the Collectif opposé à la brutalité policière (COBP), the organization that holds the annual police brutality march in Montreal.

Regardless of these watchdogs, tension between some citizens and SPVM officers persists.

Daniel Slapcoff, a first year Concordia student in film production, said he recently experienced an act of police brutality when he was hit in the face with a police shield.

At the time, Slapcoff was outside City Hall documenting protests surrounding federal anti-Islamophobia Motion 103. The protest had been initiated by the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens (CCCC) on March 4, with far-right group La Meute (the Wolf Pack) joining their ranks soon after. Left-wing activist group Action Antifasciste Montréal (AAM) counter-protested the demonstration.

As members of La Meute and CCCC decided to disperse City Hall, Slapcoff said police began interfering to ensure the differing activist groups didn’t end up too close to one another. That’s when Slapcoff noticed some officers aggressively pushing protesters.

“They stopped us because they thought we were getting too close to the other group,” said Slapcoff, who was standing at the edge of the protest with the other journalists.

That’s when Slapcoff was hit in the face with the officer’s riot shield, knocking out his two front teeth.

Slapcoff said he had identified himself before the incident to the same officer who struck him.

“I went up to the policeman and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and cause any trouble. I’m just observing,’” Slapcoff said.

After the incident, Slapcoff said he took a photo of the officer to document his ID number—following this, he confronted the officer about his behaviour.

“Do you see what you did? You just knocked my two front teeth—I had talked to you and everything,” Slapcoff recalled saying to the officer. While the officer asked Slapcoff if he wanted him to call an ambulance, he refused to apologize for hitting him.

“He said, ‘No, I just followed an order. That’s what I have to do,’” Slapcoff said. “I don’t know if that’s an official answer that he’s supposed to give or perhaps him just [being] mean.”

Although he has not officially decided to sue the SPVM, Slapcoff wants compensation for his teeth. “I was stuck in the hospital for the whole day after that,” he said.

“I have to get a two root canals and crowns,” he said. Yet, the root canals are only a semi-permanent fix. “In twenty years, I’m going to have to do it again.”

This was not Slapcoff’s first experience with police brutality. When Slapcoff tried to intervene after witnessing police officers pushing some men outside of a bar, eight of the officers forced Slapcoff to the ground.

“They were pinning me on the ledge, on the side of the sidewalk and applying pressure points to my jaw,” he said. When the officers ID’d him, they made a racist remark about his Jewish name, Slapcoff added. “Then they fined me $150 for disturbing the peace,” Slapcoff said.

“At that time, I just let it go. I didn’t want to deal with it, but this time I feel like I kind of have to.”

Paul Chablo, the current chair of John Abbott College’s police technology program and a former SPVM officer with 30 years of service experience, said there is a common misconception of what defines police brutality.

“If an individual resists a police officer and tries to confront him physically, the police officer is allowed to use force—that is not police brutality,” Chablo said. “[However], any police officer who uses more force than necessary is considered or can be charged with excessive force,” he said.

“Police brutality is not when you go to a protest and you arrest someone and you throw them to the ground,” said Chablo, who was present at a few of the anti-police brutality marches while working for the SPVM. “Police officers are allowed to use force to disperse an unruly crowd,” said Chablo.

However, if a police officer has restrained an individual and they are no longer resisting, but the officer is still using force, this qualifies as police brutality, Chablo added.

“The golden rule that [officers] are taught here is resistance equals force—the more the person resists, the more force you’re allowed to use,” Chablo said.

Chablo said so long as officers follow that rule and do not apply force to someone who has been restrained or has backed down, there will never be a problem. “He could be accused in front of an ethics board, but he will never be found guilty.”

In his last years with the SPVM, Chablo worked as chief inspector for the public relations department.

Chablo said students in the police technology program are advised to be particularly mindful of the force they use, given the ease with which bystanders can record their actions. However, the level of force used should not be dictated by whether someone is filming or not, he added.

“If you are questioning the force that you are using because you’re being filmed, then chances are, you’re using excessive force.”

In John Abbott’s police technology program, students undergo three courses on conflict management, said Chablo. In these courses, students study conflict management, in particular, verbal judo—a persuasive technique used to convince the person to cooperate by convincing them that they contributed to the decision-making process. This creates a situation where violence is avoided, Chablo said. “It’s conflict management and defusing tense situations.”

In these courses, students are also taught how to intervene legally and in a justified way to ensure they are not accused of intervening or making arrests based on race, gender or religion. Students also undergo training on necessary force—how to use it and when it is permissible according to the law, Chablo said.

People may think they have become a victim of police brutality, but if they think back if they used resistance and the police responded with some type of force, it’s not necessarily police brutality, said Chablo.

“I’m not here to defend the Montreal police because … they always have to be accountable for whatever they do,” Chablo said. “A police officer who will go out and commit an act of police brutality is doing it because his or her human emotions have taken over, and they are no longer following the rules. It’s very clear,” said Chablo.

The Concordian asked Slapcoff whether he believes training for SPVM officers should be revised. Slapcoff said he does not know the details of how officers are trained, but he believes there could be better training, specifically regarding anger management. “I think if they’re given training to control their anger, it’s not working,” said Slapcoff. “And I think that there could be a million reasons for why a policeman acts like that, it’s so widespread there has to be something that happens. There has to be a widespread change [to] their training.”

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