At this point, I’m calling Paw Patrol

Rant: The SPVM and Montreal nightlife

Graphic Jude Khashman

Content warning: this article mentions human trafficking and police brutality.

I remember where I was when the SPVM’s annual budget was announced last year. My first thought was “What does the SPVM possibly need $787 million for?” The past year never answered that question.

It would be easy to detail why Montrealers don’t like the SPVM, but I don’t want to be categorized as another journalist who doesn’t like the police. Instead, I write as a woman who has worked in the nightlife industry for the past two years, and is still trying to find why the SPVM needs a $63 million increase

Montreal has multicultural influences. This is why I love this place, but police officers seem to have difficulty with this fact.

In the SPVM 2022 report, their diversity hires confirm that the majority of officers are white men. Not only that, many of them don’t even reside on the island. Almost a year ago, I remember asking two cops, whom I saw almost every night while I was working at a nightclub, if they were from Montreal. Both answered “Yark non, Blainville baby!” 

There's something upsetting about Montreal police being blatant about the fact that they don’t like this city. If a significant number of police officers harbour negative feelings towards Montreal—the city they have sworn to serve and protect—it is challenging for me to believe their operations can proceed smoothly. This dynamic allows them to fall into the victim mentality of “people just don’t like cops.” 

I also remember an encounter while interviewing two police officers for a news story at the same nightclub I used to work at.

The officers seemed to hold a silent respect for other men with authority. They only agreed to speak to me after the head bouncer of the club told them I was a student journalist and wanted to ask them questions. 

I asked both officers if they resided on the Island, and they both responded that they lived in the suburbs. When I asked them why the suburbs, they responded that they enjoy having space for a backyard. I mentioned that some studies suggest that police residing where they are working improves the relationship between the officers and the communities they are policing. Both officers disagreed with me. “I wouldn't want to live in this city,” said one of them. “Imagine going grocery shopping and you come across someone you’ve arrested before,” said the other. 

As someone who works between the hours of 6 p.m. and 3 a.m., I have had a lot of encounters with Eclipse.

Eclipse was created 14 years ago to focus on violent crime in certain sectors of the city including in nightclubs and open-late lounges. 

Although Eclipse is a cute name for a brigade that operates at night, it’s infuriating to see what they are focusing on when this city seems to have bigger fish to fry. 

A couple of months ago, I started working at a new club as a showgirl. As someone with a dance background, I love to find paid opportunities in this art form I love. It was not my first experience and even though nightclubs can be predatory, I’ve always felt relatively safe.

That feeling of safety was robbed from me a couple of weeks ago when I assumed that everyone I work with has good intentions. However, one security guard took advantage of that feeling of security. 

When I was put in a dangerous situation, trapped and dragged into a random hotel at 6 a.m. under false pretenses, it never crossed my mind to call the police. Instead, I sent an SOS text to my best friend and shared my location with several of my male friends. These were the only traces people would have had of me if I did not make it out that night. 

“We could make a lot of money, you and I, if you let me manage you”; “One weekend in Toronto we’d make $3,000 each”;  “Have you ever thought about dancing?” Those were just a few of his comments. That security guard was a human trafficker, a pimp, and he wouldn’t let me leave.

Fortunately, I managed to escape. Only hours later, after a shower and crying, did I debrief my best friend who showed up at my place to make sure I was safe. Half asleep in my bed, I realized that not only did I not call the police, but it was only now that I was thinking about it. 

It’s probably because all I see with the police is them going after credit card scammers, drug dealers and other petty crimes. Because all I see is them being snarky to my Arab managers, or slamming and punching my Black colleagues to the pavement for being too loud.

I see all of these behaviours repeated every other week. As a white French-speaking woman, I know my experience with police is only as a witness to how they treat others. 

To be clear, I don’t think the SPVM is entirely useless. A city needs its police department. 

I am suggesting that with all the money being thrown at their department, and the money that will continue to be thrown their way in 2024, the SPVM isn’t focusing its efforts in the right areas.  

Eclipse does not need to come into nightclubs every other night with 12 officers to ask people of colour for their IDs in the hopes of eventually coming across someone on their wanted list. Not every nightclub is doing something dirty and deserves to be shut down. Eclipse is risking the employment of nightlife workers, and doing so won’t lower the crime rate. Yes, fraud is very high in Montreal, but so is human trafficking. One involves scamming companies like Visa and Mastercard, and the other one involves human beings. Yet the plight of promiscuous women working in such an environment seemed to be disregarded.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 9, published January 30, 2024.