Socio-Economic Profiling and the Brutality of STM Inspectors
Updated: May 1
Two weeks ago on March 11th, a video surfaced in the Montreal online community showing two SPVM officers violently waking up and physically removing someone who was sleeping on a bench at Snowdon metro. The SPVM claim that they were called to “dea
l with” the individual resting on the bench. This is yet another example of state sponsored violence against unhoused individuals.
For many, the metro is unfortunately the only place of brief rest, warmth, and refuge for those who are left to live on the streets. This is especially true while we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as shelters must cut down their capacity, and it is harder to find affordable housing. In addition, when members of the unhoused community try to create their own spaces via tented communities, they are torn down by the government.
By giving the STM inspectors this ability, the metro becomes significantly unsafe for its users. The STM inspectors have a history of using physical violence against people who are seen as a “threat” aka those who do not pay the metro fee or anyone who is “suspicious” in the eyes of the inspectors. Although these new abilities will make STM inspectors face consequences if they act out of line, the priority shouldn’t be “how do we hold police and STM inspectors accountable?” , but rather:
“How can we make our communities safer without employing state violence, relying on the carceral system, and criminalizing those with mental health problems, younger people, and those who are unhoused?”
Nonetheless, officers rarely face consequences for the pain they cause communities, due to government protection, and accountability for their actions is rarely taken. It is believed that once officers or inspectors are given power they face stricter consequences for misusing that power; however, this rarely happens because their power to use excessive force depends on their lack of liability.
The justification for granting STM inspectors these abilities was given by Marie-Claude Leonard, the executive director of the STM, who stated that, “Obtaining the status of special constable aims to give inspectors the necessary tools to increase their participation in improving the customer experience.” How will arresting people suspected of committing a crime improve customer service? This is a rather odd statement to make considering that the role of the police within a society is to protect property - not people. While it is important to respect public spaces and not damage property that thousands of people need to access everyday - there needs to be an alternative way to protect property without endangering people with the threat of police brutality.
The metro is a public community space and a variety of people use it to travel throughout Montreal, so everyone who uses this service needs to be considered when giving STM officers these powers - especially those who are unhoused.
A study about the amount of tickets issued to unhoused people by the SPVM and STM inspectors reveals that more than 50,000 tickets [were] issued to members of the city's homeless population between 2012 and 2019. They also state that: “There is a strengthening of social profiling practices and targeting of homeless people by the SPVM who receive nearly 40% of all findings of offense issued in Montreal under municipal regulations and STM regulations.” (Bellot et al., 2021) People now have to find ways to pay these fees as well as to pay to survive and acquire housing. These are all examples of the way the government criminalizes homelessness and attacks the lower class. By giving the STM inspectors more power, it is likely that many will be dissuaded to use the metro - pushing unhoused people further and further into the margins of society.
It is also a means of social control, meaning that police brutality and violence towards uhhoused individuals will become more normalized in public spaces like the metro.
There are countless cases of the STM and the SPVM being violent towards the unhoused community, and targeting them specifically. Rather than housing people to eradicate homelessness, the city funds the SPVM and STM inspectors as a method to eradicate people and not social problems.
With the recent increase of anti-homeless architecture in STM metros, it is salt on the wound to also give STM inspectors rights to arrest those who are unhoused. Most of the time, people are being arrested for simply “occupying space”: “54.5% of the findings under STM regulations were for non-payment of a transit ticket. In other cases, the reasons are different, such as lying on a bench or on the floor (12.6%), smoking (8.3%), consuming alcoholic drinks (7.2%) or obstructing circulation (3%).” (Bellot et al., 2021) Giving the STM inspectors the right to arrest people is a direct act of violence towards the unhoused community, since they are the ones most often profiled.
In 2019, the city of Montreal created a consultation to “ help the City improve its practices, and identify the obstacles that bar the way to the greater inclusion of all Montrealers”. According to the document, any action that endorses social profiling or social exclusion is against the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. In fact, the STM were mentioned as joining the movement to mobilize the city in the fight against profiling. What has changed in the past 2 years? When will the city match their words with their actions?
It is severely irresponsible and dishonest for the STM and SPVM to make claims to be more inclusive, offer more sensitivity training to officers , and commit to positive change only to militarize service workers, and further ostracize members of the Montreal community.
Unhoused people have the same right to public spaces as anyone else. When you see someone sleeping on a bench, on the ground, or in any public spaces, your first instinct should not be to call the police. People who are unhoused are not criminals and do not deserve to feel the wrath of state violence, in fact, they are victims of the crimes committed by the Quebec government who continue to fail, deprive, and police them.
References, plus additional readings:
Annable, K., & Kubinec, V. (2018, April 06). Criminal consequences for police officers are rare when a civilian DIES | CBC News. Retrieved April 05, 2021, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/deadly-force-police-criminal-charges-1.4607134
Bellot, C., Lesage-Mann, É, Sylvestre, M., Fortin, V., & Poisson, J. (2021, January). JUDICIARISATION DE L’ITINÉRANCE À MONTRÉAL: Des données alarmantes témoignent d’un profilage social accru (2012-2019) (Rep.). Retrieved April 5, 2021, from E Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes (RAPSIM), le Centre de justice des Premiers Peuples de Montréal (CJPPM) et la Clinique Droits Devant website: http://rapsim.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/VF2_Faits-saillants_Judiciarisation-de-litine%CC%81rance-a%CC%80-Montre%CC%81al.pdf
Ceausu, J. (2021, March 26). STM inspectors to get power of arrest as 'special constables'. Retrieved April 05, 2021, from https://www.thesuburban.com/news/city_news/stm-inspectors-to-get-power-of-arrest-as-special-constables/article_88fd59ac-b6aa-5f2c-b70c-992838a64550.html
Lemieux, N., & Bacro, L. (2019). Nouvelles Réalités, Autant D'enjeux Pour Le Respect Des Droits 5e Portrait De La Situation Dans L'espace Public Montréalais [Scholarly project]. Retrieved April 05, 2021, from http://rapsim.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/RAPSIM-5eme-portrait-v3.pdf
Montreal Metro INSPECTORS granted special constable status, new POWERS | CBC News. (2021, March 26). Retrieved April 05, 2021, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/special-constable-montreal-metro-1.5964853
The City of Montreal (2019, May 29). Consultation on Systemic Racism and Discrimination COMBATING RACIAL AND SOCIAL PROFILING (Canada). Retrieved April 5, 2021, from https://ocpm.qc.ca/sites/ocpm.qc.ca/files/pdf/P99/3-6_profilage_villedemtl_en.pdfpf
Nerestant, A. (2021, January 21). Number of tickets issued to montreal's homeless has skyrocketed in last 30 years, report FINDS | CBC News. Retrieved April 05, 2021, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/spvm-homeless-tickets-1.5881785
Olson, I. (2019, March 26). Montreal man 'seeking Justice' over STM inspectors' use of force in Metro | CBC News. Retrieved April 05, 2021, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/stm-inspectors-villa-maria-1.5071720
Olson, I. (2020, December 09). Forced out of Montreal ENCAMPMENT, DISBANDED homeless Community spreads out into City | CBC News. Retrieved April 05, 2021, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/homeless-montreal-shelters-encampment-1.5834917