File | Feeling of insecurity | A day on the metro (2 articles)

Berri-UQAM station, Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. Dozens of workers and students start their day. A few homeless people wander the halls. Police officers and special constables are clearly visible on the central mezzanine, with their uniforms and fluorescent bibs.

The precarious balance of a morning like any other, in the biggest station in underground Montreal.

Then, suddenly, this aggression. A disorganized man, who drinks his beer in one of the station’s cafes, does not appreciate it when the manager asks him to drink elsewhere. He is furious. As soon as she turns her back, he kicks her in the shin. He threatens to come back later to settle his case.

The woman remains calm, but she is shaken. She is scared.

Officers from the Montreal City Police Service (SPVM) who were nearby took his testimony and arrested the individual a few minutes later. He will be charged with assault.

A new incident which is added to an increasingly long list.

We have read and heard all kinds of anxiety-provoking stories about insecurity on Montreal’s public transportation. The savage attack on a 67-year-old man who was waiting for the metro to go to the museum, on a platform at Jean-Talon station, struck people last week.1. With reason.

I will tell you about other spine-chilling incidents at the end of this column. There is no shortage of them, unfortunately.

The situation is worse than ever, in fact, if the statistics are to be believed.

The number of interventions carried out by the 200 special constables of the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is heading towards a new peak in 2024, according to my information. They have made more than 16,700 since the start of the year.

This is equivalent to 185 per day on average, compared to 128 last year and 115 in 2022. And that’s without counting the interventions made by SPVM police officers.

I wanted to see on the ground what the daily life of the “residents” of the metro was like – all these homeless people and drug addicts for whom it had become a refuge. And at the same time, that of the stakeholders – special constables, police officers – who try as best they can to restore order to this chaos.

I warn you: it’s not fun.

“We have to find the fine line between repression and mutual aid. »

This is how Kevin Leclair, one of the STM special constables, summed up his work for me. I spent a few hours with him and his colleague Léna Ferraro on Wednesday, while they answered calls at different metro stations.


Special Constable Kevin Leclair

The bulk of the problems are concentrated in around ten stations, with Berri-UQAM as the central point. Most interventions are linked to two broad categories: homelessness (loitering, incivility, aggressiveness) and hard drugs (consumption or sale). The two situations are often interrelated, against the backdrop of fairly widespread mental health problems.

First call: Papineau station.

Police receive a report of a man smoking crack on a subway platform. He is lighting his glass pipe with a lighter when we arrive at him, five minutes later. He was escorted to the exit without further incident.


A crack user, who will be expelled from Papineau station, is arrested by special constables Kevin Leclair and Léna Ferraro.

“We could have given him a ticket because he lit a lighter, there is an article for that in the regulations,” Léna Ferraro told me. But we don’t want to go after them, they are in a vulnerable state. He was told to go out and take a walk to Beaudry. »

She has no illusions. “He’ll be back in five minutes.” »


The man is escorted to the exit by the constables.

A few seconds later, a man jumps over the turnstiles, in front of our small group. The two constables chase him. They catch up with him and ask him for his identity documents: he doesn’t have any. They collect his name, real or invented, and ask him to leave the station.

He is “vulnerable” too.

New call, direction Beaudry, in the heart of the Village. A young woman is curled up on a station bench, with two other people. His distress is painful to see. She overdosed the day before and is now craving drugs.

The constables, who know her well, help her get on the next train to Cactus, a supervised injection center. His friends were expelled, since they did not have a valid transport ticket.

It’s a bit of a game of cat and mouse. They will come back. We have 68 metro stations and 250 bus lines. We can’t cover everything.

Kevin Leclair, special constable of the STM

The calls follow one another and are almost all the same. I see them popping up on the screens of constables’ “portable checkers,” with priority codes from 1 to 5. Most cases are level “3” – the kind of situations I just described to you.

Not too serious, but inconvenient or worrying for users and STM employees.

We arrive shortly after at the Place-des-Arts station, very popular with people experiencing homelessness in the surrounding area. A group of six homeless people smoke cigarettes, drink beers and rowdy in a deserted corner of the mezzanine.


Intervention with a rowdy group at Place-des-Arts station

The constables question them. The tone rises a little. They agree to leave, but not without grumbling.

“A situation like that is a risk situation,” Kevin Leclair explains to me. There are two of us and there are six of them. Already the guy was angry and told us: “The next time you speak to us, you speak to us in English.” »

The festival of misery continues one station further, at McGill. In the huge station, connected to several shopping malls like the Eaton Center, homeless people are lying everywhere, their personal belongings scattered around them.


The constables asked the woman to sit down, but did not evict her due to the cold weather. She left the scene grumbling.

The constables once again showed clemency. They try to bring back a little decorum and inquire about the well-being of the poorest. Some will be eligible for meal vouchers or will be referred to a shelter. “On days when it’s really cold, we’re not going to automatically expel them,” emphasizes Mr. Leclair. We will allow them to stay, but we ask them to sit down. »

The 200 special constables of the STM are peace officers. They do not have a firearm, but a telescopic baton and, for some time now, pepper spray.


A man lying at McGill station receives a visit from special constables Kevin Leclair and Léna Ferraro.

They work in close collaboration with police officers from SPVM neighborhood stations. They are called in as reinforcements when the situation deteriorates.

Even though they have only been hired for a few months, Kevin Leclair and Léna Ferraro tell me that they have already seen all the colors.

In bulk: two homeless people who copulate in the Berri-UQAM station, drug addicts who fall asleep with a syringe still stuck in their arm, overdoses, a 13-year-old student who was urinated on in an escalator, death threats against them, etc.

I also collected several testimonies from STM users who say they are now afraid of taking the metro.

Some of the “hottest” metro stations

  • Berri-UQAM
  • Beaudry
  • Papineau
  • Saint Laurent
  • Place-des-Arts
  • McGill
  • Bonaventure
  • Jean-Talon

Among the situations that were told to me: men who masturbate or fondle each other on trains, a group of several dozen crack smokers at Beaudry station, a man in crisis who ran with a knife at McGill, dirty syringes left on platforms, an impaired homeless man saved at the last minute from falling onto the tracks, to name just a few.

These cases may seem anecdotal, but the rise in insecurity is clearly reflected in the number of complaints received at the STM. The Press revealed last week that they have more than tripled in 10 years, with 1,300 recorded last year2. And this is probably just the tip of the iceberg, since many people who see or experience an incident will never report it.


Special constable Léna Ferraro

It is still necessary to mention a figure to put things into perspective. There were 288 million passengers on the STM network last year, or approximately 789,000 per day.

The vast majority have had no problems. But the STM and its partners will have to redouble their efforts to reassure users. Because with the precarious state of its finances, the carrier does not have the luxury of affording a crisis of confidence which would cause its revenues to fall even further.

1. Read “Suspect arrested in connection with attack on Alexandre Champagne’s father”

2. Read “Montreal Metro: user complaints have tripled in 10 years”


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