Transcript: Simon Van Vliet on Police Killings in Montreal

ManifCOBP

Transcription provided by Cecile Branco

This interview originally broadcast on CKUT 90.3fm in Montreal and highlights the gaps in mainstream reporting and the constant focus on police narratives that dehumanize the victims. Looking specifically at the case of Jean-François Nadreau, killed in a hail of police bullets at home two winters ago, this interview details the underreported aspects of the growing number of police shootings deaths in the city.

This interview was broadcast in the lead up to the annual protest against police brutality in Montreal that takes place on March 15 each year.

Interview with Simon Van Vliet on policing issue and homeless by Stefan Christoff.

Stefan: We are going to be addressing the issue of police brutality and the crisis of police killings in Montreal. More specifically, we are going to be looking at the case of Jean François Nadreau, who has been killed in February 2012 by a police shooting at his home in the east end of Montreal.  Just like week-end, there was a visual to commemorate the two years anniversary of his death, and this of course is taking place within the context where we see a broader spike in police killing in the city. Of course, within the last two month we saw the death of Donald Ménard, who has been killed in a rooming house in Centre-Sud (killed November 11th 2013).  And more recently, Alain Magloire who has been killed close to Berry UQAM, metro station in downtown Montreal (killed February 3d 2014). Both of these people were unarmed, and so to talk about this crisis and violence taking place in the street, I am joint by a fellow independent journalist, Simon Van Vliet, contributor at CISM FM radio, good afternoon and thanks for joining us today.

So, the first question I want to talk to you about was the recent spike in brutality taking place in the city, I am wondering your perspective on the mainstream media coverage on the issue. I know you have written a piece on the case of Jean-François Nadreau, and you take sometimes looking in the stories, so maybe we can’t start talking about that story and how you have seen it being represented in the media.

Simon: well the story of Jean-François Nadreau is a story with someone with mental disabilities who was attempting suicide and her girl friend called 911 so that he would get help. But when 911 got the call, they send the police because Jean-François previously has a convection relating to arm possession. It was a very minor case, but when there is a potential of violence instability, the police is sent over to make sure the scene is secure before the medical aid come. In that case they sent 5 police officers. When Josiane Millette (his girlfriend) opens the door, she saw those five policemen and Jean-François who was behind also saw them. And it escalated his state of panic, he took a small machete that was not even sharp, and he got up and says “Got out of here” you know. And what the police did? Well one of the policeman took his gun and shoot him in the chest, and he died on the spot. And that is just a typical situation where you see police officer saying that they fear for their life when they get interviewed after. And it is normal for them, because this is what they are trained to do.

It has been coming out slowly in the mainstream media cover these situations. Alain Magloire who died more recently, is another case of a armed man with a non license arm, right he had an hammer, he was shoot by the police in bright day light in Montreal. And Nadreau was the third man died by the hand of a policeman. And in his case he needed mental health not bullet. This is why the call has been done. And this is what the supporters, family and friend of him had tried to advocate during the litigation. You know what the police is doing in these kind of intervention never help. Nadreau needed someone save is life and he had someone taking is life.

Stefan: Why do you feel important to investigate the case?

Simon: Well I think, it is important to get the story straight, you know. Because when the police kill someone, which happen once a year, or once two years in Montreal

Stefan: This year it happened a lot more.

Simon: yes, exactly. On average, from my research I found that there were two deaths per year in Montreal caused by police brutality. And more recently all of these deaths have been associated with fire armed.

So I needed to figured out, you know what happened there, and how every time it happens it just comes out as an isolated incident, which doesn’t account for the definite cycle of violence perpetrating by the police towards people with mental health problem, people that are marginalized or people with drug addiction, and that are intoxicated while being killed, or people from ethnic minorities. And police deal with these kinds of people; it always turns out in very “sketche” scenarios, where some of them are killed.   And when something like that happen, the media report on it based on the information they get. From who? From the police. And sometime they will go and take more background information, and ask question to the family, but they basically based their owl stories with the information from the police. And so they go on saying : “the policeman fear from his life, the person was armed” etc. They often portrayed these people as unstable, dangerous who were threatening public order and safety.

And they portrayed the police as a victim of the situation, like if they had any choice than to shoot and killed. It is a very interesting thing, I was just reading about Noam Chomsky propaganda model (In Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Pantheon, 1988)). He looks at international policies and how media coverage operates, using cases such as the Vietnam War. And he basically says that victims, through media coverage, are objectified in two categories, the one that are “worthy” and the one that are “unworthy”. So the one that are killed by terrorist bur are supporters of the United State, are portrayed are unworthy victims, and the one that died from the hand of the United-States army, the enemies, are portrayed has worthy victims. (The unworthy victims are victims that are “unworthy” to cover in the media because they won’t help advance United-State ideological war) 

In our case, we can translate that into people who are killed by the police are unworthy victims, you were at the wrong place at a wrong time, and you had the wrong attitude. And they don’t receive much attention.

Stefan: You are drawing patterns that have been seen at the international level, but that you have seen happening locally.

Simon: yes, when we try to look at it with a critical lens, we can definitely see that profile. And then police who are victims of violence, and we saw that at Victoria Ville riot during the student Strike (May 4th 2012). One policeman in the owl riot was beat up by protesters, and that made that made the Headlines (policeman being a “worthy” victim).

Stefan: While on the other hands, a student lost his eyes, and other student’s jaw was broken. One thing that you address earlier, concerning mental health, and it seems that one of the main demands of Jean-François Nadreau’s supporters were addressing was for in situation like that, what should be sent was an crisis intervention unit, instead of the police. And I am wondering if you can talk about that within the framework, you are critiquing the media, it seems that this is a point the media don’t bring up when they address this wave of police killing. Is their ways to approach this subject?

Simon: Definitely, it is actually interesting that you mention that, because a few week after the last incident happen, with Alain Magloire, and which also happen in 2011 with Trifluvien Patrick Limoges (died june 7 2011).

Stefan: There are so many names we can mention.

Simon: Yes there are many names, there are over 60, almost 65 people just here in Montreal that are known to have died from a police intervention. We saw La Presse covering this story about this new unit the SPVM (Service de la Police de la Ville de Montréal), which will deal with psycho/social crisis, I don’t remember the exact name of the unit. But, the media is kind of doing this public relation campaign to validate the effort of the police trying to do something to prevent such event to happen again. But what we see that it’s starting again.

Stefan: Do you feel that there is crisis of police killing in Montreal; it is accurately represented in the mainstream media?

Simon: Well the last, incident seems to have sparked a little more response from the media. Bring back some more contexts about the fact that it has been happening repeatedly, almost twice a year, mentioning that these were similar situation with a armed and unarmed man

Stefan: Yes, like with Donald Ménard who was unarmed who died at the end of last year 2013.  

Simon: So, people who aren’t armed, and who aren’t a threat to anyone, but dies because policeman are trained to protect their own life, before protecting the life of the people that are supposed to served by them. And it’s like if the person they killed is no more part of the public; they become a threat to them. But the actual threat is not the person, but the state in which the person is found in. And the police need to admit that they are unable to intervene in mental health crisis, and that their presence usually escalate the tension because they are trained to learn that “when a person resist you, you should intervene by physical contact, and try to exert physical constraint on the person, and then if that doesn’t work you can take out your pepper spray, or club, and in last resort you can shoot it to death”, and that is what they learned and do. They need to understand that they are many other intervention possibilities they can use.

Stefan: Thanks for your commentary today Simon Van Vliet, you are involve in an independent journal, maybe you can mention the website for people interested:

Simon: yes it is: www.journalensemble.coop, and you can find a piece of mine that I wrote two years ago about independent investigation into police killing (link to the article: http://www.journalensemble.coop/article/2012/11/enquetes-independantes-sur-la-police-un-coup-depee-dans-leau/296)

Stefan: And you are on our sister’s station, CISM, and also on MediaCoop, where you post a very interesting piece about Jean-François Nadreau (link to the article: http://montreal.mediacoop.ca/audio/16-f%C3%A9vrier-2013-marche-comm%C3%A9morative-pour-jean-fra/16347) to commemorate its death two years ago, and which is really an unreported case in the mainstream media.

This owl discussion about police brutality leads us to the protest against police brutality which is taking place in Montreal every year Marsh 15. The demonstration will also be covered by CKUT, and you can find more information about at www.cobp.resist.ca.

Thanks for tune in. My name is Stefan Christoff, and I am a reporter for CKUT news show, keep it locked!

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