The story of the abuse and humiliation of Abiner Lema and Stacey-Ann Philip by Montreal police underlines once again how critical it is that this city achieve what I call for in the title to this piece. Responsible authority.
An end must be brought to the aggression demonstrated by too many of our security officials, whether police or STM guards. The stories come in on a weekly basis. Yes, I know it is a minority of our security personnel that step out of line. But that minority is in danger of growing into a plurality.
What does responsible mean? It means that our security personnel stop assuming that citizens they detain are guilty of something. Police may have a right to question. But they have a duty not to pre-judge. We are innocent until proven guilty. It seems that our security personnel in Montreal think everyone is guilty of something, but they just haven’t all been caught yet. The attitude is despicable.
Citizens must be dealt with respectfully. And certainly never physically aggressed, humiliated or their person’s violated when they pose no physical danger.
The “whys” in the Lema/Philip story are legion. Why didn’t the police officers just wait for Ms. Philip to arrive from a block away before threatening to tow the car because Mr. Lema only had a learner's permit? Why did they consider Mr. Lema calling Ms. Philip, the legal owner of the car, a “hindrance to the legal process” resulting in a $644 ticket? Why pummel Mr. Lema against the car and on the ground as if he were committing a criminal act? Why pull a pregnant Ms. Philip out of the car and push her against the side of the car stomach-first? Why humiliate her by searching her from the waist up in the middle of NDG's Montclair Ave. to see if she was really pregnant or hiding a concealed weapon? By what right did they enter their home without a warrant scaring the children in the daycare and some of their parents? Section 7 of the Quebec Charter of Rights states “La demeure est inviolable.” Haven’t the police got a copy?
I have reported on many of these cases. We know that these “hindrance” tickets are just harassment. We advocated for Amal Asmar the victim of another such case of abuse. Finally the police apologized. Mr. Lema and Ms. Philip are owed no less. And, frankly, more.
Police officers who physically aggress citizens who pose no threat and are not in the commission of a felony should be summarily drummed out of the force. As should STM guards for that matter. It is quite enough. But there is another gnawing question in this sad affair. The whole incident started because an officer in a cruiser decided to punch in the license plate of the car Mr. Lema was driving. Why? Mr. Lema was not speeding. Had not gone through a red light or stop sign. Was not weaving in and out of traffic. And was a perfectly clean-cut looking young man. Yes he had run out on a neighbourhood errand and he only had a learners’ permit. Yes he should have had his partner Ms. Philip in the car with him. But this was not an act that required such abuse. So just why did the officer punch in the plate number? Where was the probable or reasonable cause? Was it because he was black? Perhaps that is another aspect of responsibility that our security officers need to be taught. Pause if there is no cause. In other words, don’t pull any triggers too quickly.
It is ironic that this terrible incident occurred in the same month that police officers are going through sensitivity courses in how to deal with violent and drunk homeless people. The officers are instructed in patience and never to approach too quickly nor to lay a hand on the homeless person. The paramount rule of the course, as reported on CTV, is to “talk it through.” Too bad the officers in the Lema/Philip case didn’t get the same instructions.