Video of Montreal officers kneeling on teen's neck still sending shockwaves, leaders demand change

·4 min read
Quebec Solidaire MNA Andres Fontecilla (left) and Marjorie Villefranche, director of La Maison d'Haiti (right) say the province should develop a policy to control police behaviour around young Black students. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Quebec Solidaire MNA Andres Fontecilla (left) and Marjorie Villefranche, director of La Maison d'Haiti (right) say the province should develop a policy to control police behaviour around young Black students. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

More than a year after the death of George Floyd prompted a reckoning of police work across North America, including in Montreal, where several reports in recent years have found police disproportionately target young people of colour, community leaders say nothing has changed.

A video surfaced two weeks ago showing officers kneeling on the neck of a schoolboy in uniform, a 14-year-old Black teen, his face pressed into the sidewalk, in an image reminiscent of Floyd's last moments.

The video prompted outrage as a Montreal police spokesperson defended the two officers' acts saying the teen had not been co-operating with police leading up to the recording.

Now, a Quebec MNA and the head of a large organization in Montréal-Nord are calling on Quebec's public security minister, Geneviève Guilbault, to announce a policy on how police interact with youth in neighbourhoods with large populations of Black and Indigenous people, and people of colour.

"This intervention would have never happened at a high school in a neighbourhood like Westmount or Outremont," said Andres Fontecilla, Quebec Solidaire MNA and the party's critic for immigration, diversity and inclusiveness,

Fontecilla was speaking to reporters outside École Secondaire Georges-Vanier on Jarry Street, near where the incident happened. He was accompanied by Marjorie Villefranche, the director general of Maison d'Haïti, an organization in Montreal's Saint-Michel neighbourhood.

The teens in the video were students of the nearby École Secondaire Louis-Joseph-Papineau.

Villefranche said police had no reason to use that kind of force against young teenagers and that it amounted to a system of intimidation, which only deepens mistrust of authorities.

She said she had been "revolted" by the video and that the teens had grown up attending after-school programs at the Maison d'Haiti.

'The kids are traumatized'

"These are children. Imagine, 14 years old," said Villefranche. "I know them. They are still small and frail. It is incomprehensible."

Fontecilla wants Guilbault to draw up a policy that would reduce the police presence around high schools in northern Montreal and replace them with more social workers in the area.

Villefranche said she wanted to see an end to the police tactic involving officers kneeling on people's backs and necks.

"To immobilize them and humiliate them by putting their face to the floor, I want it to stop. I want it to stop in Black communities because we have been sufficiently traumatised by this kind of thing and I cannot understand that police officers still thought they could this," she said.

According to David Shane, a spokesperson for the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), officers from Station 31 were responding to a call from Georges-Vanier High School about a fight involving more than a dozen young people from various schools.

The video, which was obtained by Radio-Canada, is about a minute and a half long and does not show the events leading up to the physical intervention.

Shane said police were looking into the incident and whether or not the use of force was justified.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Security, Camille Simard, said in an email that the ministry couldn't comment on the case, but that the teens could make a police complaint.

Simard said one of the techniques taught by Quebec's police school, École nationale de police du Québec, was of controlling a person by "immobilizing their axes of rotation, either at the top of the shoulders or at the hips."

"Although this technique may seem impressive, it is important to understand that its use may be the only appropriate way to control certain situations and therefore avoid the use of intermediate weapons or firearms," Simard added.

Another spokesperson, Alexandre Lahaie, called CBC, noting the Public Security Ministry had initiated four pilot projects outfitting some Quebec provincial police contingents with body cameras.

Lahaie said the Coalition Avenir Québec government considers "racial profiling a concerning issue" and, as a result, appointed a minister of anti-racism, Benoit Charette.

Villefranche and Fontecilla's demands come as Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante promised this week that Montreal police would be outfitted with body cameras by 2022, if she is re-elected in November.

Villefranche said she'd spoken to the teens' families recently.

"They are still in shock and the kids are traumatized."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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