Members of Montreal’s independent journalist community met with representatives of the Montreal police force on September 21st at the SPVM’s downtown headquarters. The object of the meeting was to discuss the treatment of “non-mainstream” journalists by Montreal police in the past, and how we can improve the situation going forward.
The meeting was organized in conjunction with Tom Henheffer, executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and Simon Van Vliet of l’Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec.
All too often, journalists who do not fall under the banner of “mainstream” or “professional” are denied access, detained, or made the target of violent actions by the police while trying to cover protests. On Monday, we had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Commander Ian Lafrenière, head of the SPVM’s communications and media relations team, about this state of affairs. What transpired was a frank and constructive discussion about interactions between independent journalists and the police.
Lafrenière made it clear that the SPVM should not discriminate between different types of media, and underscored that he makes no distinction himself. He also admitted that mistakes have been made by individual police officers in the past, but emphasized his willingness to move forward.
A few highlights from the discussion:
- Lafrenière pointed out that in an age of blogs and smartphones, it can be difficult to identify who is actually a journalist, rather than a protester with a camera
- He acknowledged that some practices carried out by SPVM officers are not appropriate, such as ordering journalists to move into an area that is about to be kettled by riot police
- The SPVM is open to establishing a line of contact with independent media members, so that they can reach out to the police force if they are ever detained or kettled during a protest
- They are also willing to elaborate on the actions and behaviour they expect from journalists, to avoid misunderstandings or confusion in the field. A preliminary list of “ground rules” will be sent to the meeting’s participants, and we will have an opportunity to provide feedback
- Lafrenière was open about the fact that change will not come overnight, and that both parties will need to commit to a continuing dialogue on this issue
- Both parties agreed to meet again in the near future to continue this conversation
Although the results of this meeting are positive and encouraging in theory, it is important that they lead to meaningful change in practice. That being said, there was a consensus among those in the meeting – myself included – that there is reason to be cautiously optimistic. Lafrenière appeared to approach this meeting in good faith, and our exchange covered a lot of very important preliminary ground.
We look forward to continuing this conversation with the SPVM, and hope that it leads to better conditions for all journalists in Montreal.