Friday, January 30, 2009

Montreal municipal authorities considering "no police insult" by-law

Montreal police are urging municipal authorities to pass by-laws in March that would enable them to ticket and fine anyone who verbally insults them. The issue has draw concerns about freedom of expression from a number of activists and academics including Professor Dick Moon at Windsor Law.

In addition, there is a concern that vague laws like this will serve as a vehicle to promote racial harassment for two reasons. First, they provide the police with a pretext to conduct a criminal investigation. Indeed, a number of concerns have been expressed over the number of existing by-laws governing conduct known as "incivilities" and the disproportionate impact these laws are having on Black and Latino youth in Montreal. See the 2007 submissions of CRARR (Centre for Research Action on Race Relations) to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Second, given the sensitivity of those in power when accused of racism, the police are more likely to use this power when confronted by insults from Aboriginal and racialized individuals than from Whites.

Posted by Professor Tanovich


  1. I find this kind of infringement on potentially legitimate protest to be very troubling. As already stated, the police are more likely to use this in a gut instinct reaction against people who they are likely to classify more quickly as "troublemaker types", such as Aboriginal and racialized individuals. This is compounded by the fact that Aboriginals and racialized individuals are also the most likely to vocally protest given wider disenfranchisement with law enforcement.

    Could the implementation of these laws be subject to judicial review/Charter application? And if so, what would be the likely outcome?

  2. The introduction of municipal bylaws of this type could actually lead to seious criminal prosecutions. In a story in the Globe and Mail, "The two solitudes of swearing:In quebec, the f-word's not so bad" (Nov. 7, 2008)it was reported one Charles-Yves Dupruy swore at police, was asked to identify himself, he refused and was then charged with obstructing justice, a very serious offence under the Criminal Code. The charge was dismissed as there was, at that time, no municipal bylaw against swearing, and therefore no authority to request identification. If a no-swearing bylaw is enacted, police could compel the profane to identify themselves - if they refused they could face charges of obstructing justice.