Quebec police defend officers' actions at summit
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Friday, August 24, 2007 8:06PM EDT
Quebec provincial police on Friday defended the actions of three officers who posed as protesters during the North American Leaders' summit earlier this week in Montebello, but added there will be an internal investigation into their conduct.
Authorities initially denied claims from protesters that officers had infiltrated their ranks but later acknowledged the three men were police officers.
They admitted the officers were undercover after footage of a confrontation between the men and Montebello demonstrators surfaced on the popular video sharing website YouTube.
Insp. Marcel Savard defended the three agents Friday at a news conference in Montreal, and insisted they were not there to provoke demonstrators.
"At no time did the officers in question engage in provocation or incite anyone to commit violent acts," said Savard.
He also said one of the officers was given a rock by protesters but the officer had no intention of using it.
"One of the extremists gave the rock to one of our police officers and he had a choice to make," Savard said.
"He was asked by extremists to throw the rock at the police, but never had any intention of using it."
The SQ did not answer questions on whether the RCMP was involved in the summit incident or whether the Quebec police received political orders to infiltrate the protesters. But the police force did say it will conduct its own internal investigation of the incident.
"If there are methods or procedures that need to be changed or adjusted, you can be reassured that will be done," said Savard.
Calls for inquiry
The Canadian Union of Public Employees is demanding an independent, public inquiry into police actions at the summit.
CUPE said Canadians have a right to ask whether their governments recognize and protect the right to demonstrate peacefully. The union said the provincial police's waffling on the issue has only further damaged its credibility to answer questions surrounding the incident.
Public Security Minister Stockwell Day, meanwhile, continued to brush of questions about a call for a public inquiry.
"The thing that was interesting in this particular incident, three people in question were spotted by protesters because were not engaging in violence," Day said Friday in Vancouver.
"They were being encouraged to throw rocks and they were not throwing rocks, it was the protesters who were throwing the rocks. That's the irony of this," said Day, adding the actions were substantiated by the video that he has seen of the protests.
"Because they were not engaging in violence, it was noted that they were probably not protesters. I think that's a bit of an indictment against the violent protesters."
Earlier Friday, the union president who exposed undercover cops posing as protesters at the summit said the controversy is distracting the public from the real issue.
Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, told CTV's Canada AM he's disappointed the controversy is shifting attention from the discussions that took place at the summit.
"One of the problems we're having here is it's taking away from the issue, why we were there," he said. "We were there to demonstrate that we are opposed to the (Security and Prosperity Partnership). This covers it all up."
Coles is shown in the YouTube video shot Monday from protests in Montebello accusing three masked protesters of being police.
At first he confronted the men because they were holding rocks and the line they were in was meant for peaceful protests.
"When I saw these three burly guys coming towards the line armed with rocks, I confronted them like I had others and immediately became apparent that these weren't protesters," he said. "They looked like police, they acted like police. I accused them of being police. You could see by their reaction in their eyes that they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar."
In the video, Coles can be heard shouting and seen trying to pull down the masks from the men.
"Put down the rock, cop!" Coles is heard shouting in the video.
The men push towards the police line in the video and they are immediately pushed to the ground, arrested and taken away. Photographs taken by another protester shows the men on the ground wearing boots with the same emblem as the officers who are arresting them.
The police say their men were just trying to pinpoint the real troublemakers in Montebello.
After viewing the YouTube footage, security expert Martin Courcy told CTV Montreal he thought the Quebec police force was at best sloppy, and at worst dangerous, in their conduct.
"The masked officers are adding fuel to the fire instead of defusing the situation," said Courcy, who trains police forces on security issues.
But others, like retired Montreal police investigator Steve Roberts, told CTV the SQ did the right thing.
"They can't be burned on a job. So if they're with a group that's throwing rocks, they'll throw the rocks, too."
The two-day summit drew hundreds of protesters demonstrating against a number of issues.
Their main focus, however, was the Security and Prosperity Partnership agreement that was set to be discussed by North American leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President George Bush and Mexico's President Felipe Calderon. The partnership would deeply integrate trade and security across the continent.
Critics argued the partnership would force Canada to relax its high standards for worker and food safety in the interest of securing a deal with the U.S. and Mexico where standards are often lower.
With a report from CTV Montreal's Stephane Giroux and files from The Canadian Press