Opposition calls for investigation into STM inspectors' use of force

The Plante administration is facing growing pressure to launch an independent investigation into a failed arrest by STM inspectors at Villa Maria Metro station earlier this month.

Community activists and members of the opposition at city hall held a news conference to call on the city administration to act. They want the STM to create an independent body to oversee complaints against transit officers.

"We're urging the STM to listen to the public and understand the concern," said Coun. Marvin Rotrand, who launched the initiative.

"I think this incident is going to be the one that provokes change."

A video of the incident shows two STM inspectors tackling and swatting at a man on the platform. At one point, the transit employees hold the man down, his head centimetres away from an oncoming train.

The unidentified man eventually flees the inspectors.

'Excessive force is excessive force'

On Monday, Rotrand pointed to a similar oversight body that was created by the Toronto Transit Commission in October 2017.

Rotrand was joined at the news conference by Lionel Perez, head of Ensemble Montréal, Alain Babineau, who works with the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, and Tiffany Callender, president of the Côtes-des-Neiges Black Community Association.

"What we saw in that video was a clear disrespect and disregard for that man's person and body," Callender said.

Warning: Some viewers may find the following video disturbing.

The STM has said the man was approached by inspectors because he was bothering other passengers. Philippe Schnobb, who chairs the STM, released a statement shortly before the news conference, defending the officers' response and noting the man had not paid his fare.

Callender said that's not the point.

"I want to be clear that whether he paid his tariff or not, $3.50 does not merit being struck, hit when you are on your back with your hands in the air, saying, 'This hurts,' and, 'Please stop,'" she said. 

"Excessive force is excessive force."

Submitted by Samantha Gold

Babineau, a former RCMP officer, said though the video doesn't show what led to the altercation, the level of force the inspectors used seemed disproportionate, given the situation. 

Unlike police officers and private security guards, there's no separate body to hold STM inspectors accountable, Babineau said. 

Rotrand said the STM claimed it looked into the incident but did not interview any witnesses. 

"We don't want the only light to have been shed on this to be by an internal investigation that took three days," Rotrand said.

Plante open to independent inquiry

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante responded after the news conference, saying she was open to launching an independent investigation into the failed arrest and to setting up an oversight body similar to the one in Toronto. 

"There's one thing I won't accept, it's to have an opposition that appears to accuse us and the STM of contempt and inaction," she told reporters.

One of the solutions she suggested is to give inspectors more power, similar to those of a police officer.

Rotrand, who is a former STM vice-chair, said inspectors cannot make arrests in the way police officers can, but they can hand out fines for infractions such as failing to pay a fare or smoking inside a Metro station.