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The author of this open letter is René Forget, retired police officer.
Dear police officers,
I am one of the rare citizens who can truly appreciate the difficulty of your work. The majority of citizens forget that you have middle class salaries, that you are also infuriated by the seemingly corrupt government, that many of you are parents of students and that, if you have succeeded in convincing your offspring to stay home, you may have the difficult task of intervening near his or hear friends.
I am one of the rare citizens to understand you because I was one of you and I am particularly well placed to tell you that the integrity of man can sometimes cost him a lot. But, despite all the difficulties that I have encountered in my life, I am still proud to have refused to issue reports for speeding infractions while I wasn’t a radar operator. I am proud not to have bought the permanency of my employment on the backs of honest citizen that I would have had condemned by our tribunals on the belief of fraudulent evidence. I am proud of all this because today I can look you in the eye and continue to look the citizens in the eye.
I take this moment to remind you that you enjoy an independent judiciary. That means that you can carry out your duties without the influence of the government. The Canadian constitution, the charter of rights and freedoms and our entire system of law gives you the right to be independent, to think for yourselves. Even more, article 26 of the criminal code makes you criminally responsible for the force that you use. I know very well that the situation is tense and I know that these police officers enjoy the presumption of innocence accordingly, but it won’t be surprising to see a police ethic committee have to examine the use of force employed by agent 728 who pepper sprayed, three times in repetition, a citizen that she spoke informally with (tutoie) when asked her politely (en la vouvoyant) what her motives were to resort to an intermediary weapon. No surprise that the police officer who shot a rubber bullet while saying “in the behind you fuck“ (dans les fesses mon calisse) should explain to us why he took so much pleasure and satisfaction from the use of force and why, if the belligerent had received a projectile in his behind, does it seem that the police officer shot him in the back. As for me, one of the people with the most do answer for is Alain Bazinet of Sûreté du Québec (provincial police force) who invoked article 31 of the criminal code to identify citizens. Unless the law has changed since my time, the power to identify someone, even in the case of article 31 is incidental to the power to denounce that citizen before the tribunals (be that by their arrest or the issuing of a report). The people of Québec are still waiting to know for what reason these citizens were intercepted and I seriously ask myself if they were not identified arbitrarily.
These are only a few difficult examples. You do your job, which is already complex, and you do it in a difficult social climate. Nevertheless, each one of you will have to answer for you actions before your peers, not the government, not the minister, you. I implore you to keep a cool head.
We are passing through a tragic era in which our politicians seem corrupt, their decisions always seem to favor them financially, and cronyism and ties to organized crime seem obvious. The media appears to be controlled by the corporations that are friendly with the state and our leaders seem above the law. Not only have they not responded for more than two years to our demands for an inquiry into corruption, but also they prescribe law 78 to settle the conflict. A special law to settle a conflict in which not all of the peaceful options have been explored. This is scandalous even for today’s government accustomed to scandal.
I hear a lot of people say this time “it’s a law, voted in by the Assemblée nationale, we don’t like it, but we have to obey it” and you, agents of peace, this law must make you sick too (don’t forget that if the right to protest is dear to a group of workers, it is dear to our police). Do we have to obey this law? What would you do if the government enacted a law asking you to arrest and detain all of the redheads you come across? What would you do if this law were asking you to shoot on sight each person weighing more than 150kg? Simply put, would refuse to enforce this law. The right of association and right to expression may not be as precious as the right to life, but this law gets people up in arms. The Québec Bar (Barreau du Québec) condemned this law, the greatest doctors of law condemned it, more than 500 lawyers offered their knowledge and talent to come to the students’ aid in contesting this law, Judge Gomery, university presidents, in short, many minds, many leading experts in law are of the opinion that some provisions of law 78 are contradictory to the charter, be it because they limit or annul a right guaranteed by the charter or because they attack the principle of an independent judiciary, legislature and executive. Therefore, you have reason to believe that you are being asked to implement an ultra vires law. I remind you that you are responsible for the force you use.
To implement this law without prudence is to ignore that this could breach the rights and freedoms of individuals, could one day be judged an abuse of power. I remind you, once again, that you have an independent judiciary and that you can unilaterally take measures that you judge necessary to ensure the protection of citizens. You should show reservation and ask the authorization of the Supreme Court before implementing this law. You should announce that you will wait for the legality of this law to be confirmed BEFORE implementing it. Don’t let the incompetence of the government distance you from the principles that you have sworn to defend. No one, no one, no one will ever reproach you for having been prudent.
The polarization of the population demonstrates that the coercive objectives intended by this law haven’t been achieved, on the contrary. If this does anything, it’s increase the discontent and the social tension, therefore, the danger of losing control on both sides.
You are the keepers of the peace, of order and of the supremacy of law. Announce now that you will wait for the green light from the court before implementing this law and I am convinced that the protests will divulge their itineraries voluntarily, just to show good faith.
You have sworn to defend the law and justice and this even at risk to your life. Take the first step, take away your helmets and your truncheons, put away your pepper spray and your rubber bullets and not only will the protesters collaborate with you, but people like me, artists, workers, baby-boomers, we will be numerous in joining our youth and doing our share to avoid a loss of control.
You are the police. You are there to settle conflicts that citizens can’t handle on their own. I have heard you talk of community police, police in the community, and it is time to show yourselves at the level of your social aspirations.
Take the students’ hands, negotiate a truce, and succeed where the government failed.
You are the police, you have to be calm when others are worked up, strong when they fall, flexible when they harden, you have to listen to us, reassure us, guide us. You have to protect us, sometimes even from ourselves.
You have sworn to serve and protect us, the climate of social tension doesn’t serve us, the loss of our rights and freedoms doesn’t serve us and we have come to the point where we need you to protect us from our government that behaves in a manner that is greedy, treacherous, petty, confrontational and abusive toward us.
Be the heroes we need, take our colleagues in Frankfurt as an example. [Trans. note: the reported incident of police officers in Frankfurt joining the protesters was apparently incorrect; they were merely escorting the demonstration.]
You are our last hope for a peaceful way out of this crisis.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.