We have written passionately and often about the demonization of Montreal’s citizens by city authorities. The usual subjects concern nanny-state rule and regulation that seek to change our personal behaviour and taxes it through fines if we misbehave. The rules pummel us into infantilism and self-abnegation to the point where some of us actually think we are guilty of something even when we are not.
Some Montrealers even support these back-door tax grabs, arguing it is for our own good. But some weeks bring stories of such abuse of process that even the most hardcore social engineers are given pause. Such was the case of Bela Kosoian last week. A woman handcuffed and detained for having the temerity to refuse to hold a Metro escalator handrail and — horror of horrors — talking back to police!
But each week seems to bring a new tale of abuse and arrogance. This week’s has nothing to do with social engineering. It has to do quite simply with perversion of law. It has to do with the affect of arrogance that seems to inform Montreal politicians and, in this case, the police.
The story of taxi drivers being ticketed hundreds, and in one case thousands, of dollars for seemingly breaking the letter of the law speaks more to the callousness of police than the culpability of their victims.
A driver parking in a regular parking spot is ticketed while he is putting money into the parking meter. When he explains to the officer that he has to use a toilet and that was why he pulled over, he is ticketed again for obstruction. Another taxi driver is ticketed for stopping on the passenger side of the bus terminal where taxis are not permitted.
When he explains to the officer that he is not waiting for a fare but merely picking up his sister — proof of which he presents — he is still given a fine. He tells the officer that he has no heart. The officer tells the driver to tell it to the judge. And there are more such stories. (Please see our website for more details on this story.)
Three matters are troubling in this affair. First, it is the same officer who is issuing these inane contraventions. Secondly, all the victims seem to be taxi drivers who are visible minorities. Third, when our reporter called the officer’s commander he basically said that this officer was acting within the law and unless a judge says something else he is not reprimanding him. Within the law. There is the rub.
Laws without justice and equity are not worth very much. They are merely two-edged swords of craft and oppression. Two-edged swords for tax collection at best. Law must be the shield of the innocent and the staff of the honest. When even traffic regulations can be used for abuse — regulations that are for public order — then what is our civic administration really worth?
And when commanders stand behind the letter of laws rather than their spirit to protect subordinates, then where are citizens to turn to seek compassionate authority? Are we, particularly our brothers and sisters of colour, to be constantly at the mercy of uniformed bullies?
We say this must stop!
It is telling that this story of abuse should come to light in the very week that Gemma Raeburn-Baynes, the subject of our editorial on “The teaching of contempt”, is still going through court process to get justice against the officers who set upon her with guns on her own property because a neighbour thought she was a thief. Gemma is black.
How many more incidents do we have to live through before the police do some self-policing?
When will we put an end to abuse of process? Do we have to take things into our own hands and stop the arrogance of authority?
The incidents mentioned above are but several of dozens every year. Each one of us, each and every citizen of whatever station in life, has inalienable rights which must not be abused. We are — each and every one — somebody! And the day is coming soon when the “somebodies” will rally together and demand the respect that is rightfully theirs.