Still much ado over nothing
After two days of controversy, the Surete du Quebec have admitted that the alleged protesters taken into custody in this video were, in fact, undercover police officers.
But they maintain that the undercover officers were not agents provocateurs.
“At no time did the Quebec provincial police officers act as agents provocateurs or commit criminal acts," insisted a statement released by the force. "It is not part of the policy of the police force nor is it part of its strategy to act in this manner. At all times, the officers responded to their mandate to maintain law and order."
At the end of the day, those who are decrying the injustice of it all have nothing to rely on aside from one officer holding a rock in his hand.
Which actually provides the riot police on scene with a pretext to stage an arrest of the men in the name of withdrawing them from cover, particularly when they are at risk of being “made”. In fact, “busting” undercover police officers is a common practice:
“Undercover officers are often "busted" to give a progress report and let management know if they need more or less supervision.”
The assumption that undercover officers at a protest must be agents provocateurs stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what undercover police work entails. Consider the claims that the use of undercover officers to bust a terrorist ring in suburban Toronto last year entailed “entrapment”.
Yet undercover police work is entirely legal, and is often used to build cases against organized crime cartels, although it clearly also has its uses in terms of monitoring the situation at a protest, which are known to often turn violent.
So in the end, what does the scandal ultimately boil down to? The use of undercover police officers to help control potentially riotous crowds, a tactic that has been found to be effective in the past.
Of course, there are lines that can be crossed. The various cases of American protest groups being actively infiltrated by undercover officers is particularly troubling.
With no evidence, however, of any such attempts by Canadian police forces (at least in cases where no criminal acts are yet being committed), the actions of the undercover officers in Montebello appear to be nothing more than an earnest attempt to monitor and manage a very volatile environment – a tricky task indeed, even using the most refined psychological tactics available.
Hiccups like the outing of the officers in question are bound to happen.
In the end, it is true that some of accusations turned out to be well-founded. The officers were, indeed, wearing the same brand and model of boot (this has eventually been confirmed through photographic evidence, although early enhancements of the photographs in question were very poor). It turned out that, by the admission of the Surete du Quebec, the individuals in question were police officers.
But the biggest, most serious accusation of all – that they were acting as agents provocateurs – has yet to be proven, and is still being based on circumstantial evidence. It stems, however, from a tendency to assume the worst about our men and women in uniform.
Whether it’s assuming that Canadian soldiers are knowingly and willingly handing Taliban prisoners over to torturers or assuming that Canadian police officers undercover at protests are there to incite riots, the suspicion of our uniformed men and women really stems from a fanatical desire to find the worst in any accusation.
At best, it’s politically-motivated hysterics. At worst, it’s a meager attempt to transplant an American scandal north of the 49th parallel.
This is because it’s well known that political protests can turn violent and cause thousands of dollars in property damage. It’s also well known that the Al Qaida training manual instructs terrorists to lie about torture.
Yet when politics are on the line, neither of these facts matter. Many of these people choose to assume the worst, because it’s politically convenient to do so.
It gets to the point where one assumes that those portraying the proactive law and peace enforcement activities of our men and women in uniform as the acts of totalitarian police states are opposed to allowing terrorists to strike on Canadian aoil and are against rioters causing thousands of dollars in property damage to people who really have little or nothing to do with the summits they protest, but who can be sure? Most of them aren't so vocal on that particular point.
Long story short, it can now (and only now) be accepted as fact that the individuals in question at the Montebello protest were police officers. That’s far from proving they were agents provocateurs.