Proposed new powers for STM inspectors has some worried about riders' safety
With more responsibility would come more accountability, counters CRARR's Alain Babineau
A community activist has launched a petition urging the Quebec Public Security Ministry not to grant more powers to Montreal public transit inspectors, making them special constables.
"We really don't want to see people coming out of Metro trains in handcuffs," said Ace Baldwin, citing the March 2019 incident in which a pair of STM inspectors swung their batons at a young Black man, Juliano Gray, in a failed attempt to restrain him over an unpaid Metro fare.
The STM's board of directors recently passed a motion seeking the new powers for its inspectors, similar to those which special constables with the Toronto Transit Commission operate under.
If granted, the STM says, its inspectors would be able to:
- Ticket and tow any vehicle that is obstructing a bus stop or bus lane.
- Allow inspectors to arrest anyone suspected of committing a criminal offence and transport them to the police.
- Intervene with someone who is suspected of harassment.
- Access databases normally reserved for police services.
Baldwin is worried about how the STM's 170 inspectors would exercise those powers, especially given recent findings that Montreal police were four to five times more likely to stop Indigenous people and Black people than white people.
"A lot of times arrests and targeting by police bodies is a racial issue and is not always valid," said Baldwin, whose petition had garnered close to 14,000 signatures by late Friday.
With extra responsibility comes extra oversight: CRARR
However, civil rights advocate Alain Babineau, a former RCMP officer and adviser to the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said with the extra responsibility will come extra oversight — and that would be a good thing.
"What I see is an opportunity here to finally get some independent oversight over a group of people that, quite frankly, over the years, have fallen between the cracks," said Babineau. "People's recourses have been very minimal."
Take the case of Gray, the 21-year-old injured by STM inspectors when they tried to restrain him, whose case Baldwin raised. The inspectors were absolved of wrongdoing after an internal probe.
Babineau said Gray had nowhere to take his complaint, because the STM inspectors do not fall under the Police Ethics Commission. If they are granted special constable powers, they will be subject to the commission.
Current complaint process 'opaque'
The union which represents the STM inspectors agrees with Babineau.
"We also want to be held accountable for our actions, and it's not really possible right now," said Pierre-Yves Bélanger, spokesperson for the Fraternité des constables et agents de la paix de la STM.
"The main avenue for someone to file a complaint would be to go to the STM complaints service centre, which leads to an administrative investigation between the employer and the employee," said Bélanger.
"It's an opaque process, and we want to lift the veil on it. We want to build trust and accountability between inspectors and clients."
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