Sunday, June 20

Protect people from themselves

When life seemed to resume its course, thanks to the first warm evenings and a decrease in infections in the metropolis, here is a Denis Coderre who, with great fanfare, announced his intention to ban alcohol in parks after 8 p.m. Inspired by Régis Labeaume, the aspiring mayor Coderre declared, in the paternalistic tone that we know him, wanting to “protect people from themselves”.

It took him less than 48 hours to rectify the situation and affirm rather that the important thing, it was not time, but safety, and that it was basically to respect the municipal regulations already in force. . But everyone saw his attempt to instrumentalize the violent incidents that had occurred in the Old Port a few days earlier. Everyone saw that it was a matter of reminding us that he aspired to lead the city hand in hand with the police forces, and that he would not hesitate to crack down so that Montreal would be a peaceful, ideal environment. for the business and the preservation of the interests of the owners.

This electoral test balloon would be anecdotal if it were not added to a series of authoritarian gestures that accompany deconfinement. As if to recall, with the support of the police, that the freedom granted to citizens is strictly marked out, and not only for health reasons. Order and public safety must be defended as such, have you forgotten that?

A curfew has indeed been implemented in the Old Port of Montreal after the incidents earlier this month. The measure was adopted without creating too much of a stir, and justified in the media as necessary to stem the so-called chaos having settled in this once pleasant and luxurious tourist district.

Metropolises were obviously crossed long before the pandemic by a tension between security and access to public space, the right to the city. This tension is unique to the modern city, and it is most often resolved to the advantage of law and order. The fact remains that, with us at least, it has never seemed so easy to justify the use of police surveillance and, more recently, the control of morals to achieve the same ends, namely to purge the urban environment of its elements considered undesirable. .

Thus, last week, a helicopter borrowed by the SPVM from the Sûreté du Québec flew over the busy parks of Montreal at low altitude. Police forces said they wanted to “increase their visibility”, citing the need for increased surveillance of the Old Port.

This is not quite how things were received by the picnickers who, far from the Old Port, took advantage of the first mild evenings to get together with friends without being rushed by the curfew. However, we limited ourselves to reporting the comments of residents who complained about the noise made by the helicopters, without taking note of the political content of the gesture. This is a clear, military-inspired intimidation tactic frequently used elsewhere to quell social protest. The intensity was not equivalent, the intention either, no doubt, but the event is not trivial.

The use of an intense police control system is being standardized, suggesting that the curfew has been replaced by surveillance, even self-surveillance of citizens. Because if the ban on being away from home after a certain time is no longer straightforward, the result is similar. We create discomfort, fear. We are fueling a reluctance to inhabit public space in order to reweave the links eroded by the pandemic.

You have to have spent the winter in a poorly lit apartment, without a courtyard and without access to nature to understand the importance of access to green spaces in the city to drive out the ambient morbidity. Rebuilding social ties in parks is not just a luxury, it is a necessity for the majority of Montrealers who have lived in confinement between walls that are too narrow.

Moreover, since the start of the pandemic, the omission of the issue of access to public places has been flagrant in government discourse – except when it comes to banning it. Members of the government of Francois Legault, as we have already said, only seem to know the private spaces, reserved for the restricted circle of the family; an ideal position to justify the deployment of authoritarian measures restricting access to public space. This is how we were able to put vulnerable people in danger of death without embarrassment, by refusing to exempt homeless people from the curfew, in the depths of winter …

We must not be fooled: the same spirit of control and social cleansing presides over deconfinement. Mayor Coderre only surfed this wave, signaling that the pandemic has indeed left marks on democratic life. If one refuses to name this tendency, it risks becoming established permanently.

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