More than 200 people staged a protest in downtown Montreal Friday night, demanding the city's police force fire Const. Stéfanie Trudeau — now better known by her badge number, 728.
Trudeau is the veteran police officer who was suspended on Thursday, following the release earlier in the week of a video taken on Oct. 2 in which she is seen putting a man in a headlock and forcefully pulling him down a set of stairs. Also captured on a confiscated cellphone was Trudeau's expletive-laced retelling of the incident to her supervisor.
"It's a shame [Trudeau's supervisors] didn't take action before, because it's not the first time that she's doing something like that," said protester Joel Vidal. "She's been reported in the newspapers....and they're just acting now."
Trudeau drew public attention in the spring during the student protests, when she was caught on videotape pepper-spraying participants who were not physically threatening anyone. The video of the officer wearing Badge 728, as she became known, generated hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube.
Montreal resident Paul Boyer says he had a run-in with the officer almost a decade ago.
He said he was walking home with his one-year-old daughter when Trudeau and her partner stopped him.
"They said, 'Don't move, you are dangerous for your child. Give me your identification,'" Boyer recounted Friday. "I said, 'Don't you have better things to do than stopping me? I am walking with my child.'"
Boyer alleges the officers became aggressive, handcuffing him and putting him in the back of their cruiser, then putting his toddler in the front seat, without a seatbelt, and driving through the city.
He said the pair acted as if they were intoxicated.
"They felt really happy," Boyer said. "They were playing with the child, but at the same time they were telling me bad things — like I was a bad father."
Complaints date back to 1996
Trudeau has had at least four complaints filed against her since 1996, including two that resulted in findings of misconduct in 2001 after staff at Sainte-Justine hospital complained about her behaviour towards nurses, staff and patients while investigating a sexual assault. She was suspended for six days.
But the man who caught the Oct. 2 arrest on video — who was one of four people charged with obstruction of justice, assault and intimidation in Plateau that night — said the public should not focus its rage on Trudeau, but on more systemic problems.
Simon Pagé said he is still upset by what happened, and while he believes Trudeau's behaviour is inexcusable, he is also disturbed by how vicious the criticism of the police constable has become.
"The fight is not there. It's not with that agent," Pagé said. "The problem is much [bigger] than that."
Problems systemic, criminologist says
A retired Montreal police commander agrees, at least in part. Doug Hurley said the failure in this case is with Trudeau's partner and supervisors for not reining her in.
"If it has been on multiple occasions, and the supervisor has had an opportunity to correct her and did not, then we have a problem with the system."
Criminologist Marc Alain, a professor at l'Université du Québec à Trois Riviéres, concurs that there are structural and systemic problems that contributed to what he called Trudeau's "shocking" actions.
He said police recruits in Quebec are not generally mature enough to deal with the demands of policing.
"I'm not really convinced that at the age at which they finish their training, they're really in a position to understand all the issues that come with the badge," Alain said.
He said countries in northern Europe now require police recruits to have a university degree.
In light of the latest video spotlighting Trudeau, Quebec public safety minister Stéphane Bergeron has said he wants to set up an independent group to reform how police behaviour is investigated. He said the group should include citizens, police officers and retired police officers.
Pagé said he would welcome that initiative, suggesting people from diverse social groups be invited to participate as well.