Past is Prologue

A June 17, 1993 editorial by Don MacPherson warned of the dangers of police protests and scare tactics by the Surete du Quebec as a means of contract negotiation:

“Last week, the Association des policier provinciaux du Quebec decided to have its members stop issuing traffic tickets… “Our association won’t do anything that risks putting public safety in danger,” said [union head] Jocelyn Turcotte, the Surete union president. But that’s exactly what they’re already doing.

MacPherson goes on to note that this approach was not novel. Similar protests had occurred eight years prior – 1985 – and that time, “traffic fatalities in Quebec increased by 17 per cent”. The ultimate hammer in all of this was the threat of an all out walkout, similar to the wildcat strike that occurred in 1969 – The ensuing violence left one provincial police officer dead, dozens of civilians injured and caused millions of dollars in damages.

So now we jump ahead to the Summer of 1999. Six years later and we are again in contract negotiations (with the SQ union asking for a preposterous 14% wage increase over 2 years) and again the SQ is using the tactic of non-policing. A Gazette editorial laments,

“The timing itself also represents a triumph of callousness. It comes just at the height of summer, the most notorious period of the year for highway carnage. Last year, for example, almost twice as many people died on Quebec’s roads in July and August as in the traditionally low months of February and March. Not content to let Quebecers bleed on the asphalt, [the police union] wants to squeeze blood from the taxpayer’s stone.”

In September, 1999 the labour dispute leads to shoving match between cops and Parti Quebecois cabinet ministers. In the scuffle, two Quebec cabinet ministers are hurt by some 15 officers . The Quebec Police Ethics Commission doesn’t investigate the incident because it has no authority over the actions of off-duty police officers.

October 1999 and the Surete du Quebec decides to step up the pressure. Detectives are now instructed not to respond to calls after 9-5 hours and on weekends, leaving homicides and rapes – crimes that usually occur after dark – uninvestigated. Gary Dimmock writes in the Ottawa Sun:

“The detectives say not enough officers are being paid to be on call, and are asking for an increase in pay. The refusal to respond means that if someone outside a city is slain after 5 p.m. Friday, Surete du Quebec major-crime detectives will not go to the scene, let alone conduct any interviews, until Monday morning. Police will not even respond to a life-threatening situation, such as a hostage- taking, during evenings and weekends.”

With the heightened threat to public security, the RCMP is asked to pitch in and assist. Surete du Quebec union head, Tony Cannavino – the current president of the Canadian Professional Police Association – criticizes the move:

”Not only is it not their territory, but their abilities are focused on fraud and narcotics, not cases like homicide investigations.”

Tensions continue. An editorial suggests the SQ’s motto should be, ”To serve and harass” after motorists are stopped by officers “checking for seatbelts” while crossing the river from Hull to Ottawa during rush-hour traffic:

“The officers are understandably frustrated by their perceived lack of tools at the negotiating table, but harassing already harried commuters won’t win much public support.”

The Summer of 2000 and the SQ is at it again:

“A showdown is looming between the provincial police union and the government, which has warned the Surete du Quebec to call off its pressure tactics before the Labour Day weekend, traditionally one of the deadliest of the year on the province’s roads. Last year, 15 people lost their lives on Quebec’s highways on the final weekend of summer, and the government vowed yesterday to discipline the SQ officers’ union if the police continue to adopt a lenient stance toward speeders.”Fines, lawsuits, anything is possible,” said Steve Magnan, a spokesman for Public Security Minister Serge Menard. “

In August 2001, Brian Kappler writes an editorial in the Gazette entitled, Governments must fight disturbing trend in policing:

“Called on over the years to meet [tougher] standards, police have demanded high pay, which is fair enough. But those pay demands have been expressed through police unions, which have become steadily more powerful. Surete du Quebec union boss Tony Cannavino, for example, is widely reputed to have more clout than the force’s top officers….

When policemen can act with impunity, they will do exactly that. It’s human nature. The SQ, in particular, sometimes seems right out of control, and authorities paralyzed. The 1999 Poitras Commission found the SQ to be unprofessional, inept and arrogant. Last year, Serge Menard, the police minister, promised a crackdown, but little seems to have been accomplished. Governments need to grasp the nettle – even challenging union power, where necessary – so that we can remain confident that the police are, indeed, our friends.

So in the last five years, has anything changed? Did the Poitras Commission introduce reform? Are the Quebec police our friends?

2005 – THIRTEEN YEARS LATER – and we have The Gazette’s Don MacPherson writing the same editorial lamenting the SQ’s protest tactics:

” Surete du Quebec officers announced late last month its members would be handing out fewer traffic tickets as a pressure tactic. (Another tactic is for officers to fill up their patrol cars with the most expensive, highest-octane gas.)…

Five years ago, in another contract dispute, SQ officers all but stopped issuing tickets. That July, the number of deaths on the highways they patrol was 50, up from the the 41 killed the previous July. The Parti Quebecois public security minister of the day, Serge Menard, finally allowed that “public safety is in danger” because of the SQ officers’ tactic. It’s only slightly less irresponsible now for them to have announced they will hand out 25 to 30 per cent fewer tickets than usual. And it’s only one more indication the SQ officers are a law unto themselves.”

For over 20 years the union of the Surete du Quebec has been involved in 3 – 5 year cycles of obstruction tactics that usually inhibit the natural process of policing and justice for approximately 3 years all for their own self-interest.

So again – as with Serge Menard – we have a request to the Quebec Minister of Public Safety, and Minister of Justice calling for reform in the Surete du Quebec. We have an SQ head, Normand Proulx promising reform.

When will citizens of Quebec stop laughing at the ironies and contradictions in their police force and come to realize that this is no joke? When will government officials get it through their heads that people who care are serious about reform?

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