Are We Living in a Police State in Canada? Black Lives Matter, the Police, and Health Care in Covid-19

The police and Canadian health care are overstepping their boundaries, and this has to stop

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Every other day we hear in the news that police are shooting Black Americans. The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013 in an attempt to protest these senseless killings.[1] The movement sparked after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman, who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman claimed he used Florida’s stand your ground self-defense.[2] Even when there are crimes, such force is not warranted, and Black Americans are overwhelmingly victims of the brutality. In Canada, Black Americans, indigenous, and visible minorities are often at the receiving end of such police shootings.

At the end of October in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, we had our first wake-up call when early morning on Thursday, October 29, 2020, police fatally shot 41-year-old Sheffield Matthews or the border of the quiet municipality of Cote Saint Luc in the west end of the city. Matthews was having mental distress and was wielding a knife; the moment he walked towards police with the knife, they shot him, he succumbed to his wounds in hospital shortly after. Instead of shooting to disable, the police shot to kill. [3] A report last year determined that Montreal police are four out of five more likely to stop Natives, Blacks, and other visual minorities in street checks.[4]

Unlike our neighbors to the south, no mass protests were decrying Matthews’ lost life. Only the borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Sue Montgomery took to Twitter to protest, “In CDN-NDG, we have a sad and tragic history of police violence against Black men. The senseless killing of people of colour needs to end. Systemic racism is undeniable. It is present in the SPVM and in all facets of our society.” The police pushed back against Montgomery’s claim referencing other Black men who died from police shootings. In NDG, the police shot down two other Black men, Anthony Griffin on Nov. 11, 1987, and Nicholas Gibbs in 2018.

Matthews worked for a seniors’ home in Montreal and suffered from poverty. These positions usually do not pay well, considering the vital work these workers perform each day. Nursing homes in Quebec saw the most deaths from Covid-19. Family friend Sabrina Folland released a video, saying, “I just want people to know that Sheffield was more than just a statistic… He was a person that took responsibility for things and he worked hard and gave his best.” [5]

Over a week later on November 7, there was finally a protest against Matthews’ death. Over 200 people gathered in Trenholme Park in NDG, calling on defunding the police and other reforms that would end such shootings from happening again. Organizer Marilhan Lopez told CBC News, “Until when are we going to keep repeating the same thing? This man was in distress, and instead of being met with care, he was met with bullets.” [6] Unfortunately, the Montreal media barely covered the protest, and Matthews will not be remembered as George Floyd or Breonna Taylor.

While calls to defund the police might seem impossible in a world where terror attacks on the rise and the world is in the middle of a pandemic, what is clear is that police and government are overstepping the line. Journalists repeatedly cannot understand why more impoverished Americans support the Republican Party versus the Democratic Party. The Republicans’ policies champion the rich, the Democrats minorities and the downtrodden. The reason is the view on government intervention. Republicans believe the government should not intrude, dictate, and micromanage Americans’ rights, while Democrats believe in big government solving all the problems for American citizens.

The irony is liberals that are protesting one of the biggest government entities in the US, the police. Police are encroaching more than ever on the lives of citizens. Nearly half the calls to 911 are for mental health and domestic crises. The police are prepared to deal with such issues, and there are often not enough social workers and psychologists working with the police. There have been suggestions that an extra non-police department is needed to deal with mental health crises probably.

Rachel Bromberg, co-founder of the Toronto-based Reach Out Response Network, believes there needs to be a “non-police, mental health emergency response service.” Bromberg told CTV News, “Police officers are trained to respond to crime, they’re not health workers, they’re not mental health experts.” Bromberg observes, “The tactics police use to respond to violent crime are often the opposite of what’s need to respond to someone in crisis.”[7] During the Covid-19 pandemic, police are experiencing higher mental health crises. If their mental health is so affected, how do we trust them to make the right decisions with the public’s mental health crises?

Columnist Allison Hanes writes in the Montreal Gazette, “Two cases, two police responses, two outcomes” about the police’s different responses to mental health crises and violence. Hanes referred to Matthews and Carl Girouard Halloween rampage through Quebec City. Hanes notes, ‘These are urgent questions in need of urgent answers, as these two distinct cases touch on two scourges facing Quebec right now. One is mental health and the other is systemic racism. But these equally compelling issues are getting very different treatment.”[8]

At the end of October, the Montreal police (SPVM) released a 50-page report, which included 19 recommendations to improve the force’s policies, including dealing with racial profiling. Global News indicates, “The report concludes that the current policing model cannot be maintained in Quebec, more specifically in Montreal, because it doesn’t take into consideration specific realities, such as the city’s diverse population and the scope of the crimes, and issues the force tries to address, including mental health crises and homelessness.”[9]

The Covid-19 pandemic has allowed governments worldwide to lock down their countries, provinces, states, localities, cities, and towns. Governments are restricting rights as we have only imagined, with public health safety as their threat. During the first wave, people kept quiet and dutifully listened. The second wave has led to rebellion from flouting the rules to protests. Police are at the front line of enforcing these rules. Now the police can brand us, criminals, for not wearing masks, not properly social distancing, and gathering. The types of restrictions have not been seen since prohibition in the 1930s and World War II. I believe in health safety, but we are giving police more opportunities to step out of bounds. Its hypocrisy, I witnessed the police fluting the same rules that are charging thousands in fines when others do the same thing they do.

Democrats in America envy the Canadian healthcare system, which is government-run, but with the lack of cost for essential medical care comes the cost of freedom. Canadians do not choose the health care best for them, the Medicare system and the government make those life and death decisions. During Covid-19, the province of Quebec has the highest per capita death toll in the entire world, 67 deaths out of 100,000 people.[1

0] Quebec has had more deaths, more than America, with over 10 million cases and 238,000 deaths, while in comparison, Quebec has only over 115,000 cases but nearly 6,500 deaths. Quebec has accounted for almost half the nearly 265,000 cases in Canada.

In Quebec, most of the deaths occurred in the nursing homes, both public and private; the elderly paid a heavy toll in a country where health care is supposed to be accessible to all. Unfortunately, the health care system interferes the most with seniors and the elderly but views them as the most expendable. The stories coming from nursing homes indicate medical professionals did not try to ensure the recovery of the elderly as in other countries and provinces; end-of-life care was the most common type of medical care.

Just a week before Matthews encountered the police on the Cote Saint Luc Road, and I unintentionally hosted members of the same Station 9 in my home against my wishes. I firsthand experienced how the police and government can overstep and control a person’s life, as they were minding their own business. At the start of September, my landlord, an elderly rabbi in his eighties, started harassing me and my mother who is in her seventies, about a leak in the master bathroom from the toilet. Despite his dramatic claims of his ceiling being damaged, threatening to evict us, and sue us over damages, he never asked to send to a plumber. We refused to have a parade of unqualified people through our home during a pandemic, and he refused to spend the money for a cautious and qualified professional. I publicly claimed that my landlord wanted to evict us so he could raise the rent significantly for the next tenant, and I was right about my theory.

During the high holidays, my landlord seemed to have stopped bothering us about a leak. Barely a day after Simchat Torah ended, he started. First, it was a drip that he had not seen in weeks. A week later, instead of calling me, instead of hiring a plumber, or even going to the rental board out of nowhere on Tuesday, October 20, 2020, my landlord called the Fire Department and the Police claiming a flood. In a world where we claim minorities are attacked, in Quebec, your language adds to privilege my landlord is French Morrocan. I went through the Jewish day school system in Montreal and barely speak French. In Quebec, where the official language is French, I was the minority, and the bias was against me.

I had just taken a shower and was not even dressed when I heard the incessant bell ringing and banging on my door. I had no idea my landlord was the source I called him; he said it was the Fire Department but did not admit he called them. I called the public security, and they told me the landlord called about a flood. Six years ago, I experienced a bathtub overflowing from an apartment above me; it poured down on me; the Fire Department did not force the janitor to go in and close off the tub or close off the water. I waited two hours until the tenant came home and closed his tub, and I had $5,000 in damages according to insurance inspectors. Now for a little leak in a toilet, the police were breaking down my door opening up a deadbolt from the opposite side. I never had the chance to even get dressed.

They treated me as a criminal, locked me in my bathroom. Three police officers entered, and two fire inspectors. With police in charge of ensuring social distancing and public health safety in the province during the pandemic, they clearly did not practice what they preached or fined. They did not care; I did not have time to put on a mask neither had my mother. They did not wear their masks properly, and one readily removed his mask and coughed all over my house.

They took issue at everything in my home, I am sorry; I did not know it was illegal to not have an Architectural Digest ready home for the police to enter. They criticized how I kept everything and rummaged through my house, my kitchen, my belongings like I committed a crime. The leak was in the master bedroom bathroom not my kitchen, bedroom, or living room. They focused on my mother who cowered in her bed afraid of these huge officers that took up the whole house.

They did not like the way my mother kept her private bedroom. Since she is over seventy, they decided I had to take care of her, although she takes care of herself. The focus went from a pipe and a so-called flood to them trying to make a case for elder abuse based on housekeeping. Talk about extending their boundaries. For years I have seen my peers put up photos on Facebook of their homes, kids, and messes. No one ever was afraid they might be accused of child abuse for having their kids wearing their food or everything strewn over the house, kitchens, and homes that often looked like a tornado and hurricane swept through them.

We were both shaking after they left. The strange thing as a white Jew experiencing this behavior from police the local news media did not find my story newsworthy despite one lawyer calling the event a gross violation of my rights. I repeatedly tried to get my story out on the local English radio station even as it was unfolding. They were uninterested even as they cover stories that seem less outrageous and surreal than what I was so helplessly experiencing. The fact that the police were abiding by COVID-19 restrictions was enough to make it newsworthy, never mind the trampling of people rights in their home, all over a leaking toilet!

Neither, did the usual communal resources that always claim to they help want to even answer me. I repeatedly tried to contact the emergency number Federation CJA provided for those that need help during the Covid-19 crisis. I left messages to the rabbi at my local synagogue in Cote Saint Luc. Even the Jewish emergency services Hatzolah did not respond. The fact that no one would help in a time when everyone says we are all in this together made the whole situation even more traumatic.

Our October horror story did not end then. At six in the evening, they came back. The Fire Department lied; they wanted to review the house again for fire safety. I admit I did not want to let them in; why? Why should they harass me, for what reason? They never gave me one. I refused to let them in for nearly two hours, which was in a sense a standoff, with my landlord letting them into the back fire escape staircase and them on the other side of the door to my home. In the meantime, I called famed Montreal human rights lawyer Julius Grey; everyone claims he cares about the people he represents and their constitutional rights; nothing could be further than the truth.[11] I wanted to pay him anything to tell me if I had the right to refuse the police entry, he told me he is too tired to answer that simple question and call his office the next day. I needed help then and there.

Two fire inspectors, four police officers, and two social workers were in the house within minutes of me opening the door. They used fire safety as a ruse to bring social workers to question my mother. Four officers, two fire, two police blocked in my kitchen; I at 5 feet one inch and 110 pounds to their over six towering above me. When I spoke louder over the noise to my mother across the house at what they were doing, the police officer wanted to get violent, calling me belligerent. The house is long; we regularly scream across the house if in different rooms. Even the tone of my voice was being questioned. I was afraid to pick up a phone on my kitchen counter that they might think it is a weapon and shoot me.

The police called for social workers for my mother, but they were completely ignoring her doctor’s directives for someone of my mother’s age and chronic condition, which has had for nearly 30 years. One person in a dwelling for a max of ten minutes with windows open, wear a mask, wash hands, and remove shoes. Instead, a total of eight police officers, fire department inspectors, and social workers crowded an upstairs duplex, without any windows opened, all wearing their big boots and wearing the flimsiest blue mask that did not cover their faces tightly. Far from the three-layer masks, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam is now recommending to be the norm.[12]

Three hours later, after this, all began; they finally left. My father died when I was sixteen, my mother has been sick since I was twelve. I had an abusive relationship that left me sick and in the hospital, and came home to find out that my beloved dog died. Nothing was more traumatic than the way the police treated me on October 20. They came in for one reason that was not even under their jurisdiction and decided they wanted to control my and mother’s life.

Why? We were two women without a man in the house. Society does not realize that unmarried women face tones of discrimination, even in the era of women’s so-called equality. Society still does not trust them; they are viewed as having a mental health problem for the mere fact they do not want a relationship. What does that say about equality for the LGBTQ community, racial and religious minorities? Is everything that is not milk and toast crazy? Or is that just the best excuse for the police and health professionals to take over and interfere in people’s lives? Three weeks later the social workers from the government the CLSC Centre Local de Services Communautaires are still harassing us despite both me and my mother telling them to live us alone, we do not want their interference.

As for my landlord, he admitted to me he wanted the Fire Department’s report exclusively to go to the rental board; he needed documentation. In the next two days, my landlord still refused to send a plumber sending anyone he could. I had to agree because as he emailed me, the police told him anytime I refuse him entry, he should call them, and they would force me to open for him. On Thursday, October 22, I had enough and called a reputable plumber, which I intended to pay for. My landlord turned him away and did not even allow me to hire my own plumber and end this never-ending nightmare, which was within my tenants’ rights.

Instead, he sent a plumber from his synagogue, which he did have to pay for. The plumber did not come to fix the problem in the seven weeks because his father was sick and died, and he had to sit shivah and mourn. The plumber told my landlord and he waited all this time for this plumber. Not paying a plumber was more important to him than fixing the plumbing issue that was such an emergency; he had to call the Fire Department and Police over. The punch line, this plumber’s father died from Covid-19 symptoms but was in the end of life care, and they never tested him for the virus. My landlord is one of the people that deny the seriousness of the Coviod-19 virus, as he said in what I can call religious fanaticism; “God will take care of it.”

My landlord is still using the police to force me to allow within my home, and he verbally assaulted my mother over the phone, threatening her. I am refusing him because the rental board even said this has to stop; my landlord abused and stepped beyond his boundaries, as did the police. It is not just in the most extreme instances that the police are going too far. They can take a citizen minding their own business in their private home and will take a civil issue and find a way to break into a home and try to take over people’s lives. Police are finding any reason to try to make someone a citizen, a criminal, and using anything, including tone of voice, as an opportunity to threaten violence. This all has to stop, we need less government control, and we need to strip the police and health care professionals from the power that gives them their God complex; if not, we are all going to be living in a police state where everything is criminal.

[1] https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trayvon_Martin

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/police-shooting-ndg-victim-identified-bei-1.5783287

[4] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/spvm-racial-profiling-report-recommendations-and-findings-1.5311589 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/shooting-ndg-mtl-police-1.5781430

[5] https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/montreal-man-fatally-shot-by-police-was-a-father-struggling-with-poverty-video-1.5168564

[6] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/ndg-spvm-black-man-protest-1.5794255

[7] https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/they-re-not-mental-health-experts-questions-swirl-about-police-response-after-fatal-ndg-shooting-1.5168864

[8] https://montrealgazette.com/opinion/columnists/allison-hanes-two-cases-two-police-responses-two-outcomes

[9] https://globalnews.ca/news/7428841/montreal-police-review-racial-profiling-cybercrime/

[10] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/article-quebecs-covid-19-death-toll-is-canadas-highest-and-one-of-the-worst/

[11] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/julius-grey-filing-quebec-superior-court-motion-against-back-to-school-1.5689697

[12] https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/another-layer-of-protection-feds-now-recommend-three-layer-masks-with-filters-1.517299

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Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.