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Catherine Lalonde & Raphaël Dallaire-Ferland
Are the identity checks in the metro for wearers of red squares we’ve been hearing about since the beginning of Montreal’s Grand Prix real? Are those who show their opposition to the tuition hike now getting searched, taken to the nearest police station, as people have been saying on social networks for the last few hours? Saturday, two journalist from the Devoir tried to bring the situation to light by putting red squares on their chests before going into the metro station. The result? They were soon questioned and held for investigation. “We do just that, criminal profiling,” a Service de police de la ville de Montréal (SPVM) agent then said while searching our journalists.
Saturday, 1:50 PM: under the bright sun, the journalists Raphaël Dallaire Ferland and Catherine Lalonde meet up at Place Émilie-Gamelin. Carrying backpacks, they each put on a red square, she adds a black one. He wears a red scarf around his neck, loosely, that leaves his face bare. She carries two big white pieces of cardboard. Signs? Not even, not posters either. Just two big blank pieces of cardboard. Off to Berri-UQAM station.
In the metro, before getting to the platform, Raphaël gets stopped. Four police officers ask to search his pack “for security reasons.” The SPVM officers are polite. “We’re searching everyone,” says Agent Norbert, “because yesterday people threw flaming beer bottles at us. We even searched a guy with a hockey bag.” Yet Catherine passed without a problem.
On the platform, a few minutes later, our journalists, still unidentified, ask a half-dozen people, of all ages, carrying bigger bags than theirs, if they got searched. Five say no. The only one who had the same experience is a young man, twenty-something, who was wearing a red square when he was intercepted.
On to Parc Jean-Drapeau, on Sainte-Hélène Island, the site of the F1 Grand Prix. The police presence is very, very strong. One officer per car, at least half a dozen at the exit, some calling out directions to insure that traffic flows smoothly. Three police vans are visible, against the station windows. Can’t swing a cat without hitting another officer. The crowd is thick, families and groups of friends walk towards the official entrance, some carrying ice chests. The journalists, still incognito, follow the group for several meters.
Returning to the metro, retracing their steps, the journalists meet François Arguin, 37, carrying a small camera, who has been filming, he says, all of the protests since the beginning of the student strike, and who approaches them, astonished to see red squares there. “I didn’t put mine on because I wanted to film without problems.”
A few meters further on, a few seconds before reaching the metro doors, several police officers encircle the group, who keep walking, “to search your bags and ask you to answer some questions,” A second search then, in less than fifteen minutes. A group of officers gathers around Raphaël Dallaire Ferland and Catherine Lalonde, another one around François Arguin. There are, in total, sixteen officers for three people. The attitude, for the same intervention, is much, much more nervous than that of the officer patrolling the metro.
The journalists cooperate, but ask a question for each question they get asked. Why search us? “Because you’re wearing a revolutionary symbol,” replies an officer, visibly annoyed, “and because I’m sick of people like you.” He’s wearing a piece of gauze on his forearm, which seems to cover a wound. Why us? Isn’t this profiling? “We’re doing just that, criminal profiling.” says the same officer. Isn’t Parc Jean-Drapeau a public place? “Today it’s a private place open to the public,” continues another, pulling a mango, a dance season programme, notebooks, pens out of the bag. Nothing illegal, nothing that could indicate criminal intentions. Why couldn’t we be part of that public? “The organizers don’t want you here.” The SPVM, today, is serving the needs and wants of the organizers of the Grand Prix? “Exactly,” says badge number 5323, repeating it proudly a second time when we ask again.
When the journalists ask, the two main agents give their badge numbers, insisting that we write them down. “Take them, your notes, for the code of ethics and all. You can call my boss, Mr. Simoneau, he’ll be happy to know I’m doing a good job. Hey, Préfontaine, give him your badge number too, you game?” jokes badge 5323, who seems not to fear any reprisals. One officer, after giving his badge number, adds more civilly, “Me, I’m Stéphane, by the way.”
The officers ask the journalists to identify themselves. Are we under arrest? “You will meet an investigator, because of your criminal intentions.” Was it the bottle of water found in the bag that revealed our bad intentions? Or the sweater? Why criminal intentions? “Stop bugging us with your questions.” is the only response we get.
No need to go to the station, the investigator is here. We head to a square of grass in front of the Biosphère which has been turned into an open-air police station. One man is handcuffed, a Quebec flag in his hands. A young woman, handcuffed but smiling, joins the group later. François Arguin follows, angry: his handcuffs hurt him, the officers took his camera. “We don’t know what he’ll do with the pictures,” says an officer, “On a day like today, that’s enough to send him to the investigator.” They make Arguin sit without asking him, by pressing hard on his abdomen. “Man, it’s like a lightweight concentration camp here.” The injured officer raises his voice: “You think a concentration camp is like this? I had family in concentration camps, you have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s nothing like that, don’t talk about that.” Another officer shows up, and one of the agents tell us he’s the boss and the investigator. We deduce that it must be Simoneau. “Can I show him what a concentration camp is like?” the policeman asks his boss. Response: “No, there are cameras.”
Wait. The journalists try to understand their situation. They have to ask repeatedly, remind the police of their rights to get a “you are held for investigation.” After about ten minutes, they are told they will not “be held. We will make you leave the site. You can only take the metro towards Berri or Longeueil.” From this time on, the policemen’s attitudes change, are much more careful. Arguin gets his camera back. The officers have erased, without his say-so, the pictures he took on-site. Why this sudden liberation, after learning the identities of the journalists?
The trio is escourted to the metro by three officers. We hear Badge 3121 on the telephone, en route, say to his listener “no arrest out of the three. I’m disappointed.” Only when they get out of the metro car, at Berri-UQAM, do our journalists feel they have regained their full freedom of movement.
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 email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.