(Originally published on December 11, 2015) On Wednesday evening, David Waddington, an associate professor in Concordia University’s department of education, went on Facebook and posted about his experience running into an anti-austerity protest on his way home from work that night.
“I got attacked by the Montreal cops tonight,” Waddington wrote, and went on to describe the alleged assault by a member of the SPVM’s riot squad.
Since then, the post has been shared 176 times, and has caught the attention of prominent protest groups like Mobilize Concordia, as well as media organizations such as the CBC.
The Link interviewed Waddington to get more details about the incident. While falling short of describing the incident as “police brutality,” the professor said what happened represented a breach in trust with civil authority.
Commander Ian Lafrenière, head of SPVM communications and media relations, spoke to The Linkabout the incident described by Waddington. Lafrenière said that while Montreal police will admit when they’ve made an error, he was unable to find any additional information on the matter, and could not comment on only “one side of the story.”
When asked if moving off to the side and raising one’s hands would be the right thing to do in a scenario like the one described by Waddington, Lafrenière did say that it would be an appropriate response.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about what happened to you Wednesday night.
About 9 p.m., I left my office [in the FG building]. I started walking home on de Maisonneuve Blvd., and I could hear some protesting going on, but I figured it was going on Ste. Catherine St. And then a few protesters ran past me, and I thought, okay, stuff is happening, and a bunch of police cars were speeding by. So I just kept walking east on de Maisonneuve.
All of a sudden, near Aylmer St., I look back and see cops in riot gear charging toward me. There were probably about five or six cops with shields, wielding batons. I see some other people running, so I figured maybe they’re chasing these protesters, and I thought, “Holy shit, I better get out of the way!” So I did—I moved to the side of the street, and I put my hands in the air to show that I was no threat to anyone, thinking these cops would run by me.
But that’s not what happened. They thumped me with the nightstick, and knocked me down. I got a kick, maybe two. I think I got one hit in the side, which didn’t have too much of an impact, because I have pretty much the thickest coat known to man. And then I got a couple of good whacks on my leg, maybe a kick or a whack, but I definitely have a bruise from that this morning.
What happened afterwards?
Well, the cop yelled “avance, avance!”—so I ran full tilt. When I got to Place des Arts, I dodged away from the protesters who were running north on de Bleury St. I thought, okay, I have to get away from this scene. I definitely don’t want to get beaten again.
So I dusted myself off, and I said, well, I’m not really hurt. I got a whack and a couple of kicks, but it could have been a lot worse. But I just thought to myself: this is the kind of thing that we see a lot in this city. It’s not the first that I’d heard of this. Obviously I was surprised that it happened to me, but upon reflection, it’s clear that this is part of a larger pattern.
I feel that the police in Montreal use way too much force, that they’re overzealous in the pursuit of their duties, and that they’re constantly thumping peaceful protesters. And it really made me think, well, I’m tired of this! I was just walking home, minding my own business, and I get whacked by the cops. I just figured that shouldn’t happen.
Were you by any chance wearing a scarf? Not to excuse their actions, but the thought comes to mind: maybe if the riot cops saw someone with their face covered, they might assume that it was a protester.
I was wearing a big Kanuk parka, and a blue-knit hat, so my face was not covered.
I mean, I’m a middle-aged guy, but I’m not that old-looking, so I guess I conceivably might have been mistaken for a protester. But I wasn’t dressed in protest garb, and I didn’t have any protest paraphernalia. I was just a dude walking home from the office, basically.
You mentioned on Facebook that this experience brought up some concerns about your pregnant wife for you. What was that about?
My wife is five months pregnant, and like me, she occasionally ends up in the vicinity of protests. It’s easy to get caught up in these things. And if she had been walking home instead of me, would she have gotten thumped by the police? Quite possibly, yes.
I got off lightly, but all kinds of people in this city get beaten unjustly by the police, as far as I can tell. I mean, terrible things can happen to protesters, which is terribly unjust, but things have really gone so far in this city that people minding their own business, going about their daily lives, are in danger from the police. I worry much, much more about the Montreal police than I worry about protesters.
It sounds like you feel you did everything you could to get out of the way of the police, and to demonstrate that you weren’t a threat. What do you think the police could have done differently in this situation?
Well they could have run on by, or they could have told me to get the hell out of here—and I would have gotten the hell out of there! It’s not necessary to beat me with a nightstick. I’m going to follow the instructions—how about you give me a chance to do it?
So what’s the next step for you in this matter?
I will certainly make a complaint. I mean, the harm that befell me was not particularly serious in terms of actual damage to me. But it’s very significant in the larger sense that it’s possible for this to happen in our city. And it’s really galvanized me to take as much social action as I can to make sure that this trend of excessive use of force by the Montreal police is brought under control.
If somebody were to ask you to put a name on what this riot police officer did to you, how would you describe it?
I’d call it a breach of the public trust. I’m not going to call it police brutality, because I feel that that term should be reserved for really serious and terrible actions, which happen, by the way, all the time in this province.
But this is a breach of the contract between citizens and the civil authority. I mean, citizens should be able to rely upon the police, they should be able to trust the police—they should feel that the police are their allies in making this a good city. But that’s not how things work in Montreal. Many citizens, myself included, do not trust the police in this city, and I think they have very good reason for not trusting them.