Let the Press Pass

SPVM Fails to Recognize Non-Mainstream Media

Photo Riley Sparks

“I don’t think you got it—so you’re going to go outside.”

That’s how an officer from the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal ousted me from the ‘media zone’ during the eviction of the Occupy Montreal protesters from Victoria Square on Friday.

I went to Occupy Montreal as a reporter from The Link. I was covering the event for a legitimate publication, bearing a Link press pass as proof I was doing so.

As a member or the press, I would have appreciated receiving similar courtesies as were bestowed on journalists from the mainstream media. All I was there to do was my job.

An SPVM officer began shouting at a photographer, his tone rising. I decided to pull out my camera and film the argument, hoping to catch a live depiction of debating about what the press is entitled to do and not to do.

Watch as SPVM Media Relations Agent Daniel Lacoursiere ousts The Link’s photographer from the designated media zone at the Occupy Montreal Eviction:

SPVM Police officer arguing with a photographer at Occupy Montreal from Pierre Chauvin on Vimeo.

When the officer realized I was filming, he threatened to arrest me if I didn’t leave immediately. I showed my press pass but it didn’t change much. Other student reporters and non-mainstream journalists where also asked to leave the space reserved for media.

There is so much I could say about the incident—firstly being that the officer was violating several of my charter rights. He argued that my camera was “in his face” despite the fact that I had taken the precaution to stand a metre away, and that it took him almost 30 seconds to even notice my presence.

When I moved back further to appease him, he continued to threaten me. Last time I checked, freedom of the press was still entrenched in the constitution—but I guess some SPVM officers skipped out on Intro to Canadian Politics.

While all this was happening, it’s worth noting that the SPVM had their own photographer, taking pictures of the protesters, as well as of some journalists. I wonder if any of the officers learned about irony in any literature classes.

The issue of accreditation is problematic for journalists covering protests and events with a police presence. The SPVM only issues press passes for a few selected events. “We don’t deliver press pass [sic] annually except for some events like the anti-police brutality [protest],” the SPVM replied to my query via their official Twitter account.

This all boils down to the issue of defining who is a reporter. Stefan Christoff, a freelance journalist and activist at Occupy Montreal, explained.

“[The] media is anybody who is a person at the event and documenting the event. Any kind of discrimination from the police about defining who is a journalist and who is not is something to be denounced, period.”

Montreal’s non-mainstream press are not alone in experiencing an attitude of contempt from cops, however. An article published on Wired magazine’s website on Nov. 18 explained that the New York Police Department expected journalists to carry press passes, while it was virtually impossible for them to even obtain NYPD-issued passes in the first place.

The point is: the SPVM, and police forces in general, have to stop deciding who counts as media and who does not. They should be accountable to the press in its entirety—and not assume that the mainstream media upholds a higher level of professionalism than the non-mainstream press.

Only one cameraman during the Occupy Montreal eviction had the luxury of a bright orange pass giving him the privilege of getting close to the tents; the rest of us were stuck on the sidewalk.

It’s about time we establish clear rules about what the police is entitled to require in terms of professional identification, if any.

Freelance reporters, bloggers, student journalists are just as important as mainstream news journalists—together, they maintain the high quality of the press, and work hard keep our democracy strong and its actors accountable.

Watch as SPVM Media Relations Agent Daniel Lacoursiere ousts The Link’s photographer from the designated media zone at the Occupy Montreal Eviction