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Disorder and Public Spaces in Montreal: Repression (And Resistance) Through Law, Politics, and Police Discretion

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This study shows that the control of disorder in Montreal, Canada, and its consequences for the occupation of public spaces by the homeless, are neither directly dictated by the law nor rely only on the law as a source of legitimacy and authority. They also depend on other forms of expression of state power expressed through local policies, architectural changes, political demands, police discretion, and policing practices, which in turn have connections to the law. This combination of factors sheds light on the multiple sites of law and repression, and opens new possibilities for ensuring homeless people's rights and for resistance.
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Disorder and Public Spaces in Montreal:
Repression (And Resistance) Through
Law, Politics, and Police Discretion
Marie-Eve Sylvestre a
a University of Ottawa
Published online: 16 May 2013.
To cite this article: Marie-Eve Sylvestre (2010) Disorder and Public Spaces in Montreal: Repression
(And Resistance) Through Law, Politics, and Police Discretion, Urban Geography, 31:6, 803-824
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.2747/0272-3638.31.6.803
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DISORDER AND PUBLIC SPACES IN MONTREAL: REPRESSION (AND
RESISTANCE) THROUGH LAW, POLITICS, AND POLICE DISCRETION1
Marie-Eve Sylvestre2
Faculty of Law–Civil Law Section
University of Ottawa
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Abstract: This study shows that the control of disorder in Montreal, Canada, and its conse-
quences for the occupation of public spaces by the homeless, are neither directly dictated by the
law nor rely only on the law as a source of legitimacy and authority. They also depend on other
forms of expression of state power expressed through local policies, architectural changes, politi-
cal demands, police discretion, and policing practices, which in turn have connections to the law.
This combination of factors sheds light on the multiple sites of law and repression, and opens new
possibilities for ensuring homeless people’s rights and for resistance. [Key words: disorder polic-
ing, homelessness, multiple sites of law, Montreal.]
Although the policing of disorder shows remarkable historical continuity (Chambliss,
1964; Johnson, 1979), state and local governments have taken a new series of measures
over the past two decades. These were aimed at prohibiting antisocial behavior and con-
trolling how public spaces such as parks, subway stations, and sidewalks, were used
by homeless persons, street vendors, and workers in the United States (Duneier, 1999;
Mitchell, 2001), Canada (Hermer and Mosher, 2002; Bellot and Morselli, 2003; Collins
and Blomley, 2003), Western Europe, and South America (Wacquant, 1999; Roché, 2002).
These programs required that action be taken in response to petty crimes to maintain
orderly neighborhoods and eliminate any signs of disorder, including various markings,
such as graffiti or broken glass, and certain acts, such as loitering, panhandling, and ingest-
ing either alcoholic beverages or drugs in public places. In doing so, the proponents of
such measures apparently expected that local residents, of whom street populations are
generally excluded, would gradually move back into public spaces to restore informal net-
works of social control as well as raising the quality of life in the community (Ellickson,
1996; Wilson and Kelling, 2005).
In most North American cities, the adoption of new quality-of-life regulations combined
with zero-tolerance policing practices have been used to implement programs against pub-
lic disorder. For instance, Cincinnati and Seattle made it illegal to beg in a parking lot or
1I am deeply grateful to Carol Steiker and Martha Minow of Harvard Law School for mentorship, guidance,
and support in this research. I am also grateful for comments from Nicholas Blomley and Fran Klodawsky who
organized the panel on Rights, Space, and Homelessness at the 2007 annual meeting of the American Association
of Geographers. I thank the anonymous reviewers and Elvin Wyly for important suggestions in improving this
article. Special thanks also go to the Montreal police personnel for their collaboration in this research. Conclu-
sions and potential errors are mine alone.
2Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Marie-Eve Sylvestre, Faculty of Law, University
of Ottawa, 57 Louis-Pasteur St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 6N5, Canada; telephone: 613-562-5800, ext. 3237; fax:
613-562-5121; email: marie-eve.sylvestre@uottawa.ca
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804 MARIE-EVE SYLVESTRE
near an automated teller machine (Mitchell, 2001). In turn, the cities of New York, San
Francisco, and Chicago rigorously enforced local ordinances against sleeping in public
spaces and loitering (MacDonald, 1995; Harcourt, 2001; McArdle and Erzen, 2001). In
1999, Ontario became the first Canadian province to enact similar legislation with the
passage of the Safe Streets Act,3 a provincial statute that responded to behavior that jeopar-
dized the safe use of the streets, and, in former Premier Harris’ words, “to crack down on
aggressive panhandlers and on squeegee people who harass and intimidate motorists” in
Toronto.4 British Columbia soon followed and enacted its own province-wide Safe Streets
Act in 2004 (Blomley, 2007).5
Contrary to these cities or provinces, however, no additional legislation was needed
until quite recently in Montreal in order to annihilate public space, construct physical and
geographical barriers, and create spaces of exclusion for the poor and the homeless. Offi-
cials proceeded differently, but with similar results. The dramatic consequences ensuing
from disorder policing programs in that city were neither directly dictated by the law nor
relied only on the law as their primary source of legitimacy. Instead, the police worked
with general open-ended existing legislation, regulatory modifications to the status of
some public places, and architectural changes to the public domain, and relied on other
forms of state authority or other sources of legitimacy, such as a directional statement
against “incivilities” or antisocial behavior, political demands voiced by the business com-
munity and residents’ association and general policing practices. Although often directly
connected to the law, these different sources of legitimacy all took on a life of their own in
the field. Even though this combination of factors is not exclusive to Montreal, these polic-
ing trends and exclusionary moves were implemented without the adoption of new specific
statutory provisions criminalizing the occupation of public places, rendering explicit what
is implicit in other urban settings. In other words, the ways in which theory, law, politics,
and police discretion and practices interact in the field and feed into each other creates the
conditions under which public spaces are controlled and limited for homeless populations
while being claimed as privately owned by certain local residents, business people, and
politicians (Côté, 2006).
This article engages with and connects the literature in the field of law and geography
(Blomley et al., 2001; Sarat et al., 2003). It presumes that law has both an impact on, and
is shaped by, the spatial dimensions of social life. As such, it will examine the impact of
disorder policing programs in Montreal on our conception and use of public spaces and on
the reconfiguration of social interactions in local communities. It further builds on critical
law and geography insights concerning the multiple sites of law (Delaney et al., 2001), and
demonstrates how law relies on multiple sources of legitimacy and finds multiple applica-
tions in a community, including local laws and regulations, but also local policies, politi-
cal demands expressed by interest groups in the neighborhood, and police discretion and
practices. It has sometimes been argued by structuralist and post-structuralist scholars that
in recognizing multiple sources of law (and, therefore, of power) and in extending these to
private actors and communities, certain postmodern law and society scholars contributed
3An Act to promote safety in Ontario by prohibiting aggressive solicitation, solicitation of persons in certain pla-
ces and disposal of dangerous things in certain places and to amend the Highway Trafc Act to regulate certain
activities on roadways, Ontario Legislature, December 14, 1999 (came into force on January 31, 2000), amended
by the Safe Streets Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005 S.O. 2005, c. 32 (December 15, 2005).
4R. v. Banks (2005), O.J. No. 98 (Ontario Superior Court of Justice), para. 3.
5Safe Streets Act, S.B.C. 2004, c. 75 (October 26, 2004).
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DISORDER AND PUBLIC SPACES IN MONTREAL 805
to rendering invisible the unique role of state law in shaping rights and in supporting
repressive practices. I agree with these critics that this is indeed a naïve conception of
legal pluralism. Yet, by showing how the law actually operates, is shaped and transformed
through sites of discretion, practices, and culture in the field, and how practices are tied
or derived from state law, we obtain a more accurate understanding of state power and
structure (Ewick and Silbey, 1998). Thus it is not only that state law annihilates space, as
Mitchell (2001) convincingly showed, but that the combined operation of law, theory, local
politics, practices, and sites of discretion in the field does so even more efficiently and
raises new questions of legitimacy with respect to these different forms of expression.
The argument offered here draws from extensive fieldwork conducted in Montreal
between 2005 and 2007. Through a request for access to information, data and internal
reports were secured from the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (“SPVM” or more
generally, the Montreal police6) with respect to the implementation and monitoring of
their program against antisocial behavior. This research is also based on several informal
conversations with police officers and SPVM officials and invitations to follow officers
on duty in the downtown area and observe their interventions. For the purposes of the
Montreal police, Ville-Marie borough (which territorially corresponds to downtown) is
attached to the South Community Service Center (Service à la communauté–Sud), and
encompasses the territory that falls under the jurisdiction of Neighborhood Stations (Police
de quartier–“PDQ”) 12, 15, 16, 20, 21, and 22. Most of the observations took place in
the territory of PDQ 21, where the highest numbers of violations to municipal bylaws are
consistently reported annually since the optimization of the Neighborhood Police in 2004
and the creation of a new database to monitor antisocial behavior. In 2007, 48.5% (10,443)
of all statements of offenses (21,569) issued for violations of such bylaws were issued in
the South Zone, and 20.8% of those statements (4,489) were issued on the territory of PDQ
21 (SPVM, 2008b).
This article is organized into three parts. The first shows how Montreal authorities con-
veniently refer to the broken-window theory to support a restricted conception of public
spaces as well as local initiatives to control disorder. The second describes how officials
proceed with open-ended, existing pieces of regulation in the city, make architectural
changes, adopt public security policies, and respond to political demands from interest
groups to limit even further the uses of public space for the poor and street populations.
The third part demonstrates how policing practices and the use of police discretion in
turn provide restrictions as well as new meanings of mobility and the occupation of pub-
lic places. The overriding theme throughout highlights the connections and interactions
between these various sources, law, and state power.
Two concluding points will be offered. The first is that in thinking about social change
and improving street populations’ rights, resistance should not only be focused on the
debate around the creation, modification, or repeal of new regulations and bylaws, but
also on public policies, specific political interests, and policing practices. So as multiple
sites of repression are identified, we should also find corresponding foci of resistance.
6In 2002, all of Montreal Island, which had been divided into several distinct municipalities, merged into a single
political entity known as the City of Montreal. However, after months of subsequent protest, especially from West
Island and the new leadership at the Quebec Legislative Assembly, some of the former municipalities were able
to recover their independence through referenda. Despite these political changes, Montreal has always relied on
an integrated police force, which was known before 2002 as the Police of the Urban Community of Montreal
(SPCUM), and now goes by the name of the Police of the City of Montreal (SPVM).
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806 MARIE-EVE SYLVESTRE
The second draws on previous scholarly work on the paradox of disorder policing, and
suggests that while their proponents aimed at reclaiming public spaces, they did so by
reducing and sometimes closing these spaces (Young, 1999; Harcourt, 2001). This has not
only deeply affected street populations’ rights and engendered even greater disorder, but
has also profoundly transformed and challenged public encounters and interactions among
all community members (Harvey, 1990).
DYNAMICS OF THE REGULATION OF PUBLIC SPACES
AND DISORDER CONTROL
Controlling Access to Public Spaces and Disorderly People
Disorder policing has in large part been attributed to the success and notoriety of the
broken-window theory (Kelling and Coles, 1997; Wilson and Kelling, 2005). According
to this theory, carelessness in repairing evidence of decay in a neighborhood will lead to
further disorder and crime:
If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows
will soon be broken [O]ne unrepaired broken window is a signal to potential
criminals that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing. (Wilson
and Kelling, 2005, p. 462)
If left unattended, disorder proceeds from one broken window to one drunken individual
to a destroyed building, a concentration of undesirable people in the neighborhood or
even more serious crimes including theft, assault, and violence (Skogan, 1990; Wilson
and Kelling, 2005). The theory goes on to suggest that after a while many fearful citizens
will abandon public spaces in the neighborhood. This theory provides authority and jus-
tification for the police to intervene as soon as possible in order to prevent the downward
spiral of urban decay (Skogan, 1990) and keep so-called decent citizens not only in the
neighborhood, but also in public spaces where they can participate in building a commu-
nity consensus in regard to rules of orderly conduct, resolution of social conflicts, and the
direct control of order and peace.
Public officials and the Montreal police relied, sometimes heavily, on the insights of
the broken-window theory in order to justify the adoption of their respective program
on antisocial behavior. Whether it was due to direct U.S. influence or to the result of the
convenient appropriation of a populist discourse as it resonated with local concerns, or
if it was instead the result of a global trend toward insecurity and fear of (post)moder-
nity (Landreville, 2002), the SPVM proposal directly built on U.S. studies on the connec-
tion between disorder and urban decay and growing feelings of insecurity in a neighbor-
hood (SPCUM, 1995). Other local documents and discourses given by public officials
are merely variations on the same themes. For instance, in 2004, the SPVM’s Director
explained that disorder created insecurity among citizens and he reiterated the role of the
police in diagnosing the types of disorder that need to be taken care of in the city (SPVM,
2002, 2003a, 2005; Sarrazin, 2004; Ville de Montréal, 2005). In a conversation, a SPVM
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DISORDER AND PUBLIC SPACES IN MONTREAL 807
official also reported that some of its high-ranking officers had traveled to Europe and the
United States to observe how this theory was being implemented and to learn from the
experiences of their counterparts.
Insofar as the authorities in Montreal have retained the conception of public spaces put
forward by the broken-window theory, it is worth noting that this theory has generated
much debate and controversy. Critics have been quite successful in demonstrating the lack
of conclusive empirical data to support the connection between disorder and serious crimi-
nality, and that order-maintenance policing had produced decline in crime (Young, 1999;
Eck and Maguire, 2000; Harcourt, 2001; Harcourt and Ludwig, 2006). Surprisingly, in the
first broken-window theory article published in 1982, Wilson and Kelling readily admitted
that the first foot-patrol experiences conducted in Newark had not actually reduced the
crime rate (2005).
The consequences of this theory for homeless people’s rights, public spaces, and for
social interaction in different communities were also called into question. Indeed, the pro-
ponents of the broken-window theory present a single homogenous vision of order, as
well as a normative judgment about the good life and how people should behave in public
places. Disorder, chaos, and street occupation are therefore considered to be the wrong
ways for people to lead their lives. There seems to be a general understanding that we
should all avoid excesses, control our instincts, keep quiet, and have the same ways of
expressing ourselves in public. In their world, everything has a defined place and time and
the belief prevails that a healthy and proper life begins with a healthy and proper environ-
ment. Consequently, limited contact with others is to be encouraged. In fact, according
to some proponents of the broken-window theory, we should limit eye contact, respect
each other’s personal space, modulate our voices, and only walk on one side of the street
(Kelling and Coles, 1997).
By insisting on modulating behavior and controlling individual bodies, proponents of
the broken-window theory also proposed to maintain a series of thoughts, feelings, and
predispositions toward the current social, economic, and political order. The connection
between body posture, spatial organization, and structures of domination has been con-
vincingly established (e.g., Foucault, 1977; Bourdieu, 1990). In that sense, being noisy,
lying down in the street, begging, or soliciting drivers can not only be seen as a loosening
of one’s posture and moral standards, but also poses a threat to a specific social order that
is seen as worth preserving. In doing so, the broken-window theory contributes to what
Harvey (1990, p. 222) referred to as the “domination of space,” exercising control over the
manner in which space can be used or appropriated by others.
There is also a strong esthetic conception of the good and the beautiful that runs
through this theory. It is no coincidence that many of the quality-of-life programs that
have been implemented in the United States have been presented under the nationwide
banner of “Keeping America Beautiful,a national initiative against littering and graf-
fiti (Ferrell, 1996). Local politicians and police officers in Montreal do not hesitate to
talk about cleansing operations when they chase away the homeless and collect their few
belongings: “We came here last week and we completely cleaned the park.” In this regard,
Bauman (1997) argues that modernity is characterized by the building of a dream of purity
wherein dirt, filth, and other polluting agents are out of place. There is the “beautiful
part of downtown Montreal with its beautiful buildings and its beautiful people,” noted
one police officer, pointing to the central business district’s glass towers, restaurants, and
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808 MARIE-EVE SYLVESTRE
their chic clientele, and then there is “the other part, where we work,” filled with topless
bars and panhandlers. According to the broken-window theory, abandoned buildings and
all sorts of detritus found in our public places should be removed along with smelly and
ugly homeless people wearing torn clothes and showing thick faces that bare the scars of
alcohol abuse and many winters past in Montreal, who are seen as the main targets of these
gigantic cleaning operations.
This vision of order in the public domain contrasts sharply with several cities’ expe-
rience with public spaces. For instance, similar fieldwork conducted in Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil, between 2003 and 2005 revealed that several acts of behavior, such as public
gathering, noise, or public drinking, considered disorderly by proponents of the broken-
window theory, are rather considered acts of civility there (Sylvestre, 2007). This is not
to say that local officials do not work hard to clean the streets of their children, to expel
street vendors, to collect and dispose of street people’s belongings, and to control access
to beaches and parks. Yet several acts are not understood as disorderly. On the contrary,
prohibiting public drinking could lead to increased disorder as people try to circumvent
the prohibition. For many, a proper, orderly, and clean environment can, to some extent,
be considered a nightmare rather than an improvement to the quality of life. This vision of
order can also reveal an important tension in Montreal between the city’s desire to control
(and limit) the occupation of public spaces and promote an orderly and disciplined vision
of public life, and the rather festive and accessible character of its spatial organization
and cultural and social life. Despite this renewed insistence on cleanliness, order, and
place, Montreal maintains a rather impressive number of parks and is known across North
America for its multiplicity of public encounters and meetings as well as for a vibrant
outdoor community life.
The main point here is not to argue that the need for order and the social reaction to
disorder in urban contexts are based on pure fantasies, especially because the first victims
of crime and disorder are often street populations (Gaetz, 2004). However, we can resist
uniformity and reconsider what impurity and incivility mean by recognizing that the sig-
nificance and extent of the harm caused by this phenomenon has been largely exagger-
ated (Cohen, 2002). Overall, this theoretical conception of order and space provides the
background against which political demands, legislative changes, and local policies are
implemented.
Law and Politics: Public Security Policies, Architectural Changes,
and Political Demands
In Montreal, severe restrictions on public spaces are not only based on a theory, but also
derive from local policies. In turn, such policies rely on political demands expressed by
specific neighborhood interest groups and are supported by legal instruments and regula-
tory changes regarding the status of public places and local architectural projects.
The Montreal police embraced the community policing model and launched their
neighborhood police in 1997. At the time, their new program relied on an enlarged and
expanded mission that read as follows:
in partnership with institutions, socioeconomic organizations, community groups
and citizens, the SPVM is committed to promoting the quality of life of all citizens
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DISORDER AND PUBLIC SPACES IN MONTREAL 809
within its territory, contributing to reducing, increasing road safety within the terri-
tory, fostering a feeling of, and developing a peaceful and secure living environment
while respecting the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Quebec and Canadian
Charters of Rights and Freedoms. (SPVM, 2003a, p. 2)
Six years later, the report on the optimization of the neighborhood police reaffirmed the
SPVM commitment to community policing (SPVM, 2003b). SPVM ranked fighting
against antisocial behavior among the highest concerns and expectations of citizens, insist-
ing that it should become a “real priority” (SPVM, 2003b). By 2008, the “occupation of
urban space” ranked among the eight most important challenges facing the “new genera-
tion of the neighborhood police” (SPVM, 2008a, p. 7).
Such police action did not follow or coincide with the adoption of any general statute by
the provincial legislature or specific, all-encompassing bylaw by the city in order to fight
against antisocial behavior, as was the case elsewhere in Canada (Collins and Blomley,
2003). Instead, the SPVM adopted a policy with respect to disorder and agreed on a list
of antisocial acts to be closely monitored, which the City of Montreal explicitly endorsed.
Following the recommendations from its Committee, the SPVM chose two overarching
categories to encompass all behavior: (1) signs of antisocial behavior or physical disorder,
and (2) acts of antisocial behavior or social disorder (SPVM, 2003b). These categories
were then divided into subcategories including noise, disturbing behavior, drug trafficking,
driver misconduct, and other acts that fall into the category of social disorders, as well as
vandalism, environmental misconduct, and automobile obstruction that fall into the cate-
gory of physical disorders. Finally, the Committee suggested filing the subcategories using
34 operational codes, including 8 already on the books and 26 new ones in order to estab-
lish better diagnosis, to ensure a follow-up, and to account for their interventions (SPVM,
2003b). Ironically, no code for broken windows was ultimately adopted (SPVM, 2002).
The final list included the categories of antisocial behavior identified by the Montreal
police found in Appendix 1.
These 34 operational calling codes are not legal categories and do not directly relate to
either municipal bylaws or provincial statutes. Rather, they are referred to by the police
to sort out the phone calls they receive both for the population through the emergency
line (911) and from officers in the field reporting on what they observed. Yet they are not
completely separate from legal categories. As explained by the SPVM, this list includes
“antisocial behaviors and disorders defined by laws, bylaws and ordinances as well as
reflected by citizens’ concerns” (SPVM, 2003b, p. 9). With the support of local authori-
ties, the police chose to enforce existing regulations that include city bylaws, provincial
statutes, and occasionally the Criminal Code of Canada (“Cr.C.”)7 The established law
enforcement arsenal is therefore quite comprehensive, and several behaviors and acts can
easily be made to fit existing categories. For example, graffiti writing can be seen as a
7Relevant legislation includes Bylaw concerning Noise, R.B.C.M, c. B-3; Bylaw concerning Dogs, R.B.C.M, c.
C-10, Bylaw concerning peace and order on public property, R.B.C.M, c. P-1; Bylaw concerning cleanliness
and protection of public property and street furniture, R.B.C.M, c. P-12.2; Bylaw concerning Parks, R.B.C.M, c.
P-3, Bylaw prescribing conditions regarding the possession and use of any transportation ticket issued under the
authority of the Société de transport de Montréal, R-037 and Bylaw prescribing standards of safety and conduct
to be observed by passengers in the rolling stock and immovables operated by or for the Société de transport de
Montréal, R-036; Highway Safety Code, R.S.Q. c. C-24.2, ss. 444-453.1 and 505, and Canadian Criminal Code,
L.R.C. (1985), c. C-46 (e.g., ss. 173, 175, 179, 180, 213, and 430).
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810 MARIE-EVE SYLVESTRE
violation of either s. 7 of the Bylaw concerning cleanliness and protection of public prop-
erty and street furniture or s. 3 of the Bylaw concerning cleanliness of private lots or both,
and it can even be classified as mischief under s. 430 Cr. C. Loitering and causing a public
disturbance are also prohibited under bylaws and ss. 175 and 179 of the Cr.C.
Furthermore, the police relied on a series of regulatory changes to land use planning
and development bylaws as well as corresponding architectural modifications in public
spaces. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the city of Montreal progressively transformed pub-
lic places into parks to control their opening hours which made it possible for police to
enforce curfews. According to Ordinance No. 3 in force at the time, public places were
open to the public at all times, whereas municipal parks could be closed at night (usually
between midnight and 6 a.m.). For example, in 1996, city officials suggested transforming
Berri Square, where street youths used to gather and stay overnight, into Emilie Gamelin
Park.8 As a result, Ste. Catherine Street in downtown Montreal now has sections and street
corners surrounded by concrete blocks with extremely limited green space and a large park
sign. In 1999, the city repealed Ordinance No. 3 and replaced it with Ordinance No. 8 to
subject all public places to the curfews, with the exception of those who figured in Annex
1 of the bylaw. In August 2006, while sitting on a three-party task force put together by
the Quebec Human Rights Commission to examine the potentially discriminatory effect of
the City of Montreal bylaws on the homeless,9 Ville-Marie borough definitely subjected all
public places and squares to the curfews by removing them from Annex 110 (Côté, 2006;
Nicoud, 2006).
Finally, in 2007, Ville-Marie Borough changed its bylaw on the control of dogs and
other animals to make the presence of a dog in a park a public nuisance. Homeless people,
who commonly circulate with one or several dogs on the streets of Montreal, along with all
other dog owners, were thus prevented from entering parks with their animals during the
day.11 These changes have not only had permanent effects on the sociospatial configuration
of public spaces, but they have also accomplished indirectly what other cities had chosen
to do directly: criminalizing homelessness as well as various survival strategies used by
homeless people.
Other architectural changes had the same effects on access to public spaces for the home-
less and domination of such spaces by private interests. For instance, the city of Montreal
closed various spaces by erecting walls and fences or by adding concrete blocks around
vacant lots or abandoned buildings that used to be occupied by the homeless. In October
2008, the Ville-Marie Borough mayor presented to the press a new concept of a bench park
with the stated intent of “creating a distinctive signature for the borough.” The length of
the bench is divided by metal armrests into three discrete sections. Each section is wide
8Order No. 3 modifying Bylaw concerning parks, P-3 R.R.V.M. This order never entered into force for technical
reasons: Kavanaght v. Montréal (City), [2002] J.Q. No. 4839, C.S. Montreal, 500-06-000087-995, October 15,
2002.
9In 2005, the Quebec Human Rights Commission established a three-party task force to examine allegations of
systemic discrimination against the homeless. The task force was composed of representatives from the Com-
mission, community groups, as well as the City of Montreal, including the police. Despite the efforts, the work
of the subcommittee set up to examine the discriminatory effects of the bylaws did not produce any concrete
results. Therefore, in November 2009, the Commission issued a legal opinion to the effect that the judiciariza-
tion of the homeless in Montreal constituted systemic discrimination and represented a case of social profiling
(Commission, 2009).
10City of Montreal, Ville-Marie Borough, Resolution CA06 240540, Minutes from August 1, 2006 Council.
11Minutes from June 5, 2007, Council.
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DISORDER AND PUBLIC SPACES IN MONTREAL 811
enough to allow one person to sit, but narrow enough to prevent the homeless and anyone
else who might be tempted to lie down on the bench.12 Despite valid esthetic, environmen-
tal, and technical reasons to choose such a configuration from a design perspective,13 this
does not mean there will be no direct consequences for the homeless, nor that city officials
who ordered such benches will not use them to restrict access to public spaces. Indeed,
once installed, these benches might be just another signal that “homeless people are not
welcome anywhere,” as was once overtly stated by a former director of Public Safety for
the City of Montreal (Cauchy, 2004).
Finally, the adoption of a policy against antisocial behavior and the choice of a selected
list of operational codes was arguably based on citizens’ concerns (SPVM, 2003b). This
followed the insights of community policing which promised to offer greater democratic
participation in neighborhood public safety. Yet the community was never a homogeneous
entity. Responding to the needs and concerns of citizens has sometimes meant opposing
residents, merchants, street populations, and even police interests. But, in the end, some
interests clearly prevailed. In Montreal, the police seemed to be operating from a perception
of what the community wanted that tended to conform more to the agenda of certain power-
ful members or interest groups of that community, which in turn informed and was shaped
by the police bureaucratic structure and mission, rather than an expressed desire from the
community in general. In the field, policing disorder was rather directly influenced by com-
munity politics, institutional demands, and officers’ discretion (Sylvestre, 2010).
In addition to being related to legal and political considerations, the list of calling codes
was certainly influenced by the police, their experience, knowledge, and understanding
guiding what they were capable of achieving under such a policy. In its report to the SPVM,
the Committee on Antisocial Behavior noted that “the spectrum of antisocial behavior is so
broad that we need to define it in light of our jurisdiction, legal definitions and the limita-
tions of our capabilities (in terms of resources, staff and priorities)” (SPVM, 2002, p. 9).
Thus, the list of antisocial behaviors also reflects institutional pressures and limitations.
The context provided by community policing, the adoption of a local policy against
antisocial behavior, the existing legal instruments used for the new purposes of the day,
and regulatory changes to the status of public places have shaped the police understanding
of disorder and their conception of public places.
Restricting Space Through Policing Priorities and Discretionary Power
In the field, local police officers incorporate the legal and institutional conception of
public spaces and use their discretion to shape the restrictions actually imposed on pub-
lic spaces (Bourdieu, 1990). Starting with downtown Montreal, it appears that officers
understood that policing disorder consisted of controlling street populations or activi-
ties that are associated with street life. In one conversation, an officer commented that
“to fight antisocial behavior here, what we do a lot is to police squeegees and to work
on the homelessness special project,” referring to the joint effort made by all downtown
12A picture of these benches is available on the website of Michel Dallaire Industrial Design: http://www
.dallairedesign.com/flash/index.html (last accessed May 11, 2009).
13In an informal conversation with a person who worked on the project, I was told that the new benches were desi-
gned this way to accommodate the differences in ground level in various parts of Montreal (the armrests ensure
that the benches stay as straight as possible), as well as to make sure there were three individual sitting spaces to
maximize the access and use of the benches by residents.
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812 MARIE-EVE SYLVESTRE
neighborhood stations concerning street youths and homeless people. In their eyes, when
something is not related to the street population of the city, it does not fall into the same
category: disorderly conduct around bar fights, noises, and conflicts between neighbors
“are not what we mean when we say that tonight we’re going out to fight antisocial behav-
ior.” In that case, “our priority here downtown is on squeegees, beggars stopping cars, and
homeless people. We could include bar fights and clients spitting on the ground, but that’s
not the same.” This officer’s understanding of antisocial behavior corresponds exactly to
the priorities identified by his neighborhood station. When officers in the field are faced
with a type of behavior that was not set as one of the priorities, they generally do not think
to deal with it in the context of the anti-disorder program.
In that sense, the Committee on Antisocial Behavior for the SPVM advised that each
station commander along with local partners make their own assessment of disorder and,
starting from the list of calling codes, establish their short list of antisocial behavior for
which priority should be given within their territory (SPVM, 2002, 2003b). In the territory
served by the SPVM in 2005, graffiti was a priority identified by 12 of the 18 selected
PDQs,14 followed by public meeting and noise (11), drug trafficking in public (9), pub-
lic consumption of alcohol or drugs (8), loitering, spitting, urinating, and littering (8),
bothersome presence of beggars and homeless persons (6), and fighting (6). All but one
PDQ referred exclusively to disorders occurring in public places, and all PDQs expressed
concern about social disorders, which included public gathering or loitering (especially
among youth) in public places such as parks, subway stations, or, more generally, in the
streets. In the downtown area,15 the behavior of street populations is a leading concern.
All six of the PDQs serving the CBD set “presence of beggars and homeless persons” as a
priority, while three focused on squeegees, two on street prostitution, and two on loitering,
spitting, and public urination. Except for the widespread emphasis on graffiti as a prior-
ity, no other physical disorder (as opposed to social disorder) rose to the rank of priority
in 2005. This discrepancy may be explained by the fact that graffiti writing is sometimes
associated with street youth, and is directly connected with street life and disorderly acts.
Table 1 summarizes the priorities concerning antisocial behavior identified in the selected
PDQs (Table 1). It shows that if there first was a single, centralized list of social and
physical disorders adopted by the SPVM (Appendix 1), it was quickly supplanted by local,
neighborhood-scale priorities and practices that not only vary across the city, but are also
focused on certain people and activities related to street life.
The disproportionate importance given to social disorders and the occupation of public
spaces by street populations in Montreal’s policing practices is displayed in Table 2. It lists
all police interventions by category of antisocial behavior from January to September of
2005 within the territory that falls under the jurisdiction of the entire SPVM, the South
community center, and PDQs 21 and 2216 (Table 2). Overall, social disorders accounted for
14In 2005, when these data were collected, 39 neighborhood stations operated in four community centers (South,
North, West, and East) on the island of Montreal (in 2007, this number decreased to 33 with the New Generation
of the Neighborhood Police). In each of the four community centers, at least three stations were selected, and
those with the two highest rates of municipal bylaw violations in 2004 were automatically selected. All PDQs in
the South Community Center, which corresponds roughly to the downtown area, were selected. Other stations
were chosen for either their location, or for specific characteristics such as high violent crime rates and low levels
of observed antisocial behavior according to the SPVM 2004 Annual Review.
15In 2005, this roughly corresponded to the South community center (Stations 12, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22) and Station 38.
16Since 2004, the Police Intelligence and Archive Section (Section d’information policière et archivage [SIPA])
has collected data on police interventions for antisocial behavior.
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DISORDER AND PUBLIC SPACES IN MONTREAL 813
most police interventions: 90.5% for the entire SPVM, 94.5% for the South Community
Center, 98% for PDQ 21, and 98.5% for PDQ 22. The most frequent cause of police
intervention for antisocial behavior was “disturbing behavior,” which includes public con-
sumption of alcohol, presence of prostitutes, bothering presence of beggars and homeless
persons, presence of squeegees, and spitting, loitering, and public urination. This category
of behavior represented 72.7% of all police interventions for the entire SPVM, 78.7% for
the South Community Center, 84.6% for PDQ 21, and 87.1% for PDQ 22. The second and
third most frequent police interventions were noise and vandalism (respectively, 9.3% and
8.9% of all interventions for the entire SPVM). The data for 2005 were slightly different
from those of the previous year, during which 63% of all police interventions in Montreal
were for antisocial behavior, 15% for vandalism, and 12.5% for noise.17
17The new database was first used in January 2004 along with the optimization of the neighborhood police sys-
tem. There may be some variations in reporting as a result of early adjustments in the neighborhood stations. For
instance, there is a pronounced shift in the statistics between February 2004 and March 2004: according to SPVM
officials, this was a time when the police decided to no longer record events if they could not subsequently ensure
necessary follow-up and treatment.
Ta b l e 1. Mo s t IM p o r t a n t pr I o r I t I e s o f ne I g h b o r h o o d po l I c e st at I o n s I n Mo n t r e a l
Priority by category Stations selecting this priority
out of 18 selected stations
Social disorders
Public meeting and noise 11
Drug trafficking in public 9
Loitering, spitting, urinating, littering 8
Public consumption of alcohol or drugs 8
Beggars and homeless persons 6
Fighting 6
Presence of prostitutes, soliciting 4
Other social disorders (indecent acts, expulsion) 4
Presence of squeegees 3
Rowdiness 2
Noisy neighbors 2
Physical disorders
Graffiti 12
Abandoned car 1
Unlawful parking 1
Source: Information taken from Neighborhood Station 15, Intervention Plan for Antisocial Behavior–Grafti,
2005 and Program on Antisocial Behavior–Alcohol and Drug Consumption on the Public Domain, 2005;
Neighborhood Station 22, Program on Antisocial Behavior–Prostitution, Grafti and Disrespectful Posting,
May 2005; Neighborhood Station 27, Program on Antisocial Behavior 2005 and Neighborhood Stations 27
and 28, Operation Feeling Safe Outdoor, 2005; Neighborhood Station 35, Strategic Program 2005, p. 11;
Neighborhood Station 30, Antisocial Behavior–Gathering and Noise on the Public Domain Especially at
Subway Station St.-Michel, January 2005 and Program, Priority 5: Dealing with Antisocial Behavior, 2005;
Neighborhood Stations 6 and 7, Program on Antisocial Behavior 2005; Neighborhood Station 38, Report on
Antisocial Behavior for the Summer 2005, and SPVM’s general database.
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814 MARIE-EVE SYLVESTRE
Ta b l e 2. po l I c e In t e r v e n t I o n s w/r t o an t I s o c I a l be h a v I o r f o r t h e fI r s t 34 we e k s o f
2005—spvM, so u t h co M M u n I t y ce n t e r a n d st a t I o n s 21 a n d 22 (Mo n t r e a l )
Categories of antisocial behavior SPVM %aSouth % PDQ 21 % PDQ 22 %
Social Disorders 10,659 90.5 6,032 94.5 2,484 98.0 1,576 98.5
Noise 1,092 9.3 471 7.4 173 6.3 49 3.1
Public meeting and noise 318 29.1 102 21.7 35 20.2 20 40.8
Noisy neighbors 197 18.1 65 13.8 15 8.7 10 20.4
Other noise 577 52.8 304 64.5 123 71.1 19 38.8
Disturbing behavior 8,572 72.7 5,023 78.7 2,144 84.6 1,394 87.1
Public consumption alcohol/
drugs
1,963 22.8 876 17.4 324 15.1 210 15.1
Spitting, urinating, littering 1,553 18.1 657 13.1 246 11.5 71 5.1
Presence of prostitutes/
soliciting
1,054 12.3 955 19.0 123 5.7 669 48.0
Beggars and homeless persons 452 5.3 422 8.4 170 7.9 134 9.6
Squeegees 468 5.5 349 7.0 150 7.0 142 10.2
Rowdiness (bikes, skates) 12 0.1 12 0.2 2 0.1 3 0.1
Other disturbing behavior and
other offenses
3,070 35.8 1,752 34.9 1,129 52.7 165 11.9
Drug trafcking 101 0.9 90 1.4 15 0.6 62 3.9
Drivers misconduct 93 0.8 41 0.6 9 0.3 6 0.4
Conflicts between drivers
(“rage au volant”)
32 34.4 7 17.1 1 11.1 1 16.7
Rowdiness and noisy engine 19 20.4 16 39.0 5 55.6 1 16.7
Other offenses relating to
traffic
42 45.2 18 43.9 3 33.3 4 66.6
Conicts 245 2.1 122 1.9 10 0.4 31 1.9
Between citizens (including
insults and impoliteness)
32 13.1 11 9.0 2 20.0 1 3.2
Violent demonstration 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
Demonstration 48 19.6 44 36.1 1 10.0 29 93.6
Fighting (rowdiness and
serious)
165 67.3 67 54.9 7 70.0 1 3.2
Other social disorders 556 4.7 285 4.5 147 5.8 34 2.1
Indecent acts in public places 34 6.1 13 4.6 5 3.4 2 5.9
Persons to expel 50 9.0 16 5.6 0 0.0 2 5.9
Animals biting or stray 40 7.2 15 5.3 2 1.4 3 8.8
Threats, intimidation,
harassment, indecent words
71 12.8 6 2.1 0 0.0 0 0.0
Other incidents 361 64.9 235 82.4 140 95.2 27 79.4
Physical Disorders 1,125 9.5 349 5.5 51 2.0 24 1.5
Vandalism 1,051 8.9 311 4.9 50 2.0 20 1.3
Graffiti 596 54.1 186 59.8 17 34.0 4 20.0
Degrading of public
equipment
79 7.5 43 13.8 23 46.0 1 5.0
Other vandal acts 376 35.8 82 26.4 10 20.0 15 75.0
Environmental misconduct 35 0.3 27 0.4 1 0.0 3 0.1
Abandoned, destroyed, and/or
demolished buildings
1 2.9 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
Abandoning objects and
rubbish
34 97.1 27 100.0 1 100.0 3 100.0
Car obstruction 39 0.3 11 0.2 0 0.0 1 0.1
Unlawful parking 14 35.9 8 72.7 0 0.0 0 0.0
Abandoned car 25 64.1 3 27.3 0 0.0 1 100.0
Total interventions
(social and physical disorders)
11,784 100.0 6,381 100.0 2,535 100.0 1,600 100.0
aPercentages have been rounded to the nearest tenth.
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DISORDER AND PUBLIC SPACES IN MONTREAL 815
These patterns are confirmed by the number of statements of offenses (the most fre-
quent form of police interventions18) issued per category of antisocial behavior for the same
years (Table 3). Despite some reporting inconsistencies among the PDQs, these numbers
18Comparison of Tables 2 and 3 suggests that among all the possible interventions, the police seem keen on
issuing statements of offenses in the case of disorder policing.
Ta b l e 3. st at e M e n t s o f of f e n s e s Is s u e d pe r ca t e g o r y o f an t I s o c I a l be h a v I o r f o r t h e
fI r s t 34 we e k s o f 2005 a n d f o r t h e en t I r e ye a r o f 2004—spvM, so u t h co M M u n I t y
ce n t e r a n d st a t I o n s 21 a n d 22 (Mo n t r e a l )
Categories of antisocial behavior SPVM
2004
SPVM
2005
South
Zone
2004
South
Zone
2005
PDQ 21
2004
PDQ 21
2005
PDQ 22
2004
PDQ 22
2005
Social Disorders 10,038 8,123 5,603 4,110 3,464 1,969 451 615
Noise 1,223 1,056 456 455 180 170 34 45
Public meeting and noise 385 316 105 101 31 35 2 20
Noisy neighbors 194 178 44 61 13 15 15 9
Other noise 644 562 307 293 136 120 17 16
Disturbing behavior 8,328 6,581 5,018 3,380 3,222 1,659 414 560
Public consumption of
alcohol/drugs
2,282 1,824 1,203 796 480 309 138 177
Spitting, urinating, littering 1,906 1,520 925 644 472 242 114 66
Presence of prostitutes/
soliciting
73 80 65 78 41 9 15 46
Beggars and homeless
persons
527 322 508 298 340 126 22 86
Squeegees 636 245 437 160 309 80 68 50
Rodeo (bikes, skates) 36 7 24 7 13 1 0 0
Other disturbing behavior 136 169 59 108 11 10 15 74
Other offenses 2,732 2,414 1,797 1,289 1,556 882 42 61
Conicts 84 64 31 44 12 3 1 1
Between citizens 31 13 2 3 2 0 0 0
Demonstration 1 5 1 2 1 0 0 1
Fighting 52 46 28 39 9 3 1 0
Other social disorders 403 422 98 231 50 137 2 9
Indecent acts in public 18 16 9 2 1 1 2 0
Person to expel 233 43 11 11 3 0 0 1
Animals biting or stray 52 37 22 14 13 2 0 3
Threats, intimidation 1 4 1 2 0 0 0 0
Other incidents 99 322 55 202 33 134 0 5
Physical Disorders 177 82 103 50 42 12 8 5
Vandalism 102 50 47 25 30 11 2 2
Graffiti 54 32 20 16 11 5 0 2
Other vandal acts 48 18 27 9 19 6 2 0
Environmental misconduct 75 32 56 25 12 1 6 3
Abandoned and/or
demolished buildings
1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0
Abandoning objects and
rubbish
74 32 55 25 12 1 6 3
Total statements (social and
physical disorders)
10,215 8,205 5,706 4,160 3,506 1,981 459 620
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816 MARIE-EVE SYLVESTRE
reveal how the police incorporate institutional demands and underscore the importance of
policing priorities and practices.
Clearly, police officers on the ground do not have much discretion over the definition
and content of policies and bylaws governing the use of public spaces. Therefore, they
must accept and internalize a general understanding of disorder and a conception of public
places that have been dictated by the general orientations issued by local authorities. In
that sense, city officials can be fairly proactive in reminding police officers of the people
that are of particular interest to them. For instance, after I commented on the impact of
the antisocial behavior policy on the homeless, one police ofcial once asked out of exas-
peration, “but what can we do when the mayor’s ofce calls us and tells us to clean up the
park?”
In addition, police officers are further constrained by existing statutory provisions.
The choice between relying on a particular legislative provision will prompt the exercise
of police discretion, but will also draw from internal policies regarding the use of regula-
tory or criminal instruments as well as considerations with respect to costs, efficiency of
the process, and prosecutorial knowledge of legal culture and judicial interpretation.19 In
recent years, these factors have led the police to use the Criminal Code more often than
municipal bylaws in order to deal with soliciting for the purpose of prostitution. In the
context of disorder policing, local authorities and the SPVM largely favored enforce-
ment of municipal bylaws and certain provincial statutes despite the diversity of available
legal instruments. For example, the Montreal police utilized the general prohibition to
use “street furniture for a purpose other than the one for which it is intended”20 to ticket
homeless people who were lying down on a park bench, or they referred to the Quebec
Highway Safety Code that prohibits a pedestrian from “dealing with the occupant of a
vehicle”21 to issue statements of offenses to squeegee youth. More specifically, accord-
ing to Bellot et al. (2005, 2007), between April 1, 1994, and March 31, 2006, the police
issued 37,775 statements of offense for violations of municipal bylaws or the regulations
of the Montreal Transportation Society (STM) to individuals who, at the time of the issu-
ance, all provided their addresses as one of the few organizations or shelters working with
street youths or the homeless population. In the first phase of Bellot’s study (1994–2004),
she found that the most frequent violations for which statements of offense were issued
were public consumption of alcohol (20.8% of all statements issued for violations of
municipal bylaws22), public drunkenness (18.9%),23 loitering or obstruction on the public
domain (12%),24 soliciting (6.5%),25 and sleeping in a park after closing hours (3.9%)26
(Bellot et al., 2005).
19For example, the case law with respect to the restrictive interpretation given to “loitering” under s. 179 of the
Criminal Code: R. v. Munroe (1983), 5 C.C.C. (3d) 217 (Ont. C.A.) (j. Cory); R. v. Heywood, [1994] 3 S.C.R.
761 (j. Cory).
20Bylaw concerning cleanliness and protection of public property and street furniture, R.B.C.M, c. P-12.2, s. 20.
The original French text reads: “Il est interdit d’utiliser le mobilier urbain à une autre fin que celle à laquelle il
est destiné, de le détériorer ou d’y apporter quelque modification que ce soit.”
21Highway Safety Code, R.S.Q. c. C-24.2, s. 448.
22Bylaw concerning peace and order on public property, R.B.C.M., c. P-1, s. 3.
23Bylaw concerning peace and order on public property, R.B.C.M., c. P-1, s. 2.
24Bylaw concerning peace and order on public property, R.B.C.M., c. P-1, s. 1.
25Bylaw concerning peace and order on public property, R.B.C.M., c. P-1, s. 7.
26Before January 1, 2002, Bylaw concerning parks, R.B.C.M. c. P-3, section 3 applied. Since then, the boroughs
have had jurisdiction over parks except those mentioned in Schedule D of the Charter.
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DISORDER AND PUBLIC SPACES IN MONTREAL 817
In using existing legal instruments, the Montreal authorities and police have clearly
shown that there is no need to adopt additional pieces of legislation to pursue a renewed
political agenda because existing regulations are often flexible enough. Moreover, the lat-
ter reveal a growing tendency in Canada to resort to regulatory criminal law as the primary
punitive normative system in the resolution of minor social conflicts, such as relationships
among neighbors or the use of public space. This is seen in the total number of state-
ments of offenses issued for violations of bylaws in Montreal (regardless of whether the
individuals were homeless), which has increased by 107.5% since the optimization of the
neighborhood police (SPVM, 2008b).
Nonetheless, within the limits of the policy and bylaws, police officers admittedly have
much room to apply discretion, and by their actions contribute directly to regulating the
uses of public spaces. On occasion, they may decide to issue a statement of offense or arrest
someone; at other times, they may simply let a person go free. Many examples of police
use of discretion were witnessed in the course of this study. In particular, one police officer
in Montreal indicated that he was known in the station for “being a nice guy” who tried
to understand street people “perhaps too much.” As he spoke, a drunken man approached
the police car to talk with him. The officer proceeded to open his door and walk the man
back to the sidewalk. Returning to the car, he confided that this was an example (and a very
convenient one at that) of what he had just been talking about. Specifically, he said:
I could have given him a statement of offense for public drunkenness, but what
would have this amounted to? I can use my discretion so that people like him do not,
in addition to their problems, collect a fine and pay the costs of incarceration.
A few hours later back at the station, he showed me a statement of offense that he had
just issued to a beggar, suggesting he suspected that person of being a repeat offender
(although he could not proved it according to the station records). In this instance, he did
not act as such a nice guy.
This discretion, in turn, can be circumscribed by institutional pressure and gender
stereo typing. During an intervention I witnessed, police officers had received a phone
call complaining about a drunken homeless person “yelling, harassing, and being gen-
erally aggressive toward tourists.Two female police officers responded to the call and
were able to initially resolve the situation. However, soon thereafter, the police received
another call about what appeared to be the same man, who had moved just a few blocks
away and continued to harass people. The same two officers went back out to address the
situation, this time accompanied by the officer with whom I was patrolling the streets.
When we arrived at the scene, five police officers were there (the two female officers, the
officer I was accompanying, and two supervisors). The homeless person was handcuffed
and on the ground, yelling that he had been the victim of violence. The two female officers
initially struggled to get hold of him, but were eventually able to bring him to the police
car. With the help of two male officers, they then pushed him into the vehicle. One of the
officers also hit the man even after he had been neutralized. At that point, the two female
officers explained that they had been forced to use pepper spray against him because he
had resisted arrest.
In the end, the police placed him under arrest and took him to the South Community
Center where he could calm down and then probably be released (with or without charges
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818 MARIE-EVE SYLVESTRE
of obstructing a police officer in the execution of her duties). The officer who had used
pepper spray expressed some concern about the fact that I was observing the scene and
insisted that this type of intervention was exceptional. Later that night, she explained in
more details to her colleagues what had happened; as she started explaining, she failed to
notice that I was in the back of her colleagues’ car:
We expelled him once from that one stretch of the street, and then we received
another call for the same man just a little further along that street. He was becoming
aggressive and refused to move out. He was not cooperating at all. The poor man had
some fingers missing and it was very difficult to get a hold of him. He was small and
puny. We found ourselves in a bad position: we couldn’t subdue him and we were
ashamed about not being able to do so. You know, we didn’t want to call for men to
come to our rescue! We could not handcuff him because his hands were sliding. We
did not want to call on the radio, so she [her partner] sprayed him. And not just a
little bit because I had to tell her to stop since I was also getting some of the pepper
in my eyes.
Besides pointing to the possibility of police violence in their interactions with home-
less people, this incident provides some insight into the culture of “manhood” in the police
force and its influence on the ways in which female police officers exercise their discre-
tion and end up interpreting the constraints and requirements imposed on them (Bourdieu,
2002; Westmarland, 2002).
In the same vein, the control of disorder also depends on whether a type of behavior is
considered antisocial as far as the police are concerned. Policing is a lot about establishing
personal interactions based on mutual respect. Some police officers have learned about the
life story of many of the people they encounter in the streets and, as a consequence, they
occasionally decide to give some of them a break. For example, after receiving a phone
call of a merchant complaining about the concentration of street youths in front of his
store, police officers arrived on the scene to meet with one person they personally knew
who claimed that he “had nothing to do with the group and had just got here.” As they later
explained, that young man was from the northeastern part of Quebec and, although he had
had a bad year, he was not on drugs and had probably found a job working for his brother
back home (“if only he could decide to go back,” one added). As a result, they agreed that
he could not be the one disturbing the merchant and decided to let him go with the under-
standing that he was trying to get hold of his life. In two other examples, a police officer
pointed to a particular homeless man who was a crack cocaine addict and was always loiter-
ing around one particular street corner looking for crack rocks that could inadvertently have
fallen on the ground, and to another homeless man who had lived in a certain park for many
years, saying that he was “very nice and well educated and we have had long conversations
together.” Critics of community policing and of anti-disorder programs have often claimed
that proximity between the police and some individuals contributed to the increased sur-
veillance of certain groups as well as to harassment and racial or social discrimination due
to the increased interactions (Spitzer, 1999; Bellot et al., 2005). This is indeed the case.
That said, however, proximity in the streets can sometimes, for some individuals, mean
increased understanding of street people’s life conditions, and the possibility for some indi-
viduals to count on sympathy if an incident should occur on their street corner.
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DISORDER AND PUBLIC SPACES IN MONTREAL 819
Other police officers negotiate the use of public spaces with the homeless. For instance,
some officers allow beggars to panhandle in the streets as long as they remain on the side-
walk and do not bother drivers. If they venture onto the street or interact with motorists,
they then run the risk of getting a statement of offense. This is not only because they would
then be in violation of city bylaws but, more importantly, because they would violate an
agreement and disrespect the police officers. In that sense, there is often a huge difference
between standing up and sitting down in the streets or between displaying all your belong-
ings on the sidewalk and keeping them on your person (Wilson and Kelling, 2005). By
living in the streets and being under constant surveillance, a person is constantly walking a
thin line between respecting the law, disrespecting unofficial rules, and abiding by one or
both of them. In this context, disorder is also considered to be any open or direct challenge
to police authority and/or honor (Duneier, 1999).
CONCLUSION
The case of Montreal exemplifies how regulation of the occupancy of public spaces
(and in many cases, the annihilation of space) is often the result of an interactive relation-
ship between theory, laws and regulations, political forces, policy statements, and policing
practices. Agents in the field rely on statutory state law, though not exclusively, to control
disorder and impose restrictions on the use of public spaces. Whereas the multiple legal
instruments provide a toolbox whereby local officials and police can pick and choose, the
appropriation and domination of space largely depend on the adoption of a directional
statement by the police against antisocial behavior—based on political demands expressed
by interest groups and city officials, the establishment of local priorities, and police discre-
tion in their daily dealings with people on the streets. The multiplicity of sources to support
the state’s repressive actions can raise new issues as to their legitimacy. But they also open
new possibilities for ensuring homeless people’s rights and implementing social change.
In uncovering the different sources of legitimacy on which the programs against disorder
rely, and in showing the complexity of their legal ramifications, we can also identify more
clearly the multiple sites of resistance.
Although it is tempting for critics to concentrate their efforts on resisting newly enacted
public order laws and regulations by challenging their legality and asking for their repeal
or modification, the experience of Montreal has shown that such moves are necessary
but not sufficient to undermine the various forms of sociospatial control and exclusion
of the homeless population. While necessary for sending a political message, statutory
law reform will likely not be enough. As the state finds other means and justifications to
express its power through executive commands and police action—but also as practices,
culture, and discretion in the field (tied to their understanding of the law and what is asked
of them) give it a sense of direction—we will also need to better understand and act upon
these. If we are to effectively intervene, we need to realize how practices are often only
partly constrained by legal provisions, and we ought to pay more attention to how law is
directly influenced by practices and the culture that prevails within the police and juridical
fields.
In the meantime, it is troubling to discover that whereas the idea seemed to have been
the opening of public spaces for local residents (Ellickson, 1996), most transformative
efforts have operated to close these spaces completely or restrict the kinds of activities that
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820 MARIE-EVE SYLVESTRE
could take place there. This in turn created significant disorder (Harcourt, 2001; Sylvestre,
2007). In some cases, transforming public places in parks led to conflicts between the
police and street people. For instance, on July 29, 1996, David Kavanaght and about 70
other persons occupied Square Berri after midnight to demonstrate against the modifica-
tion of the status of the Square in Ordinance No. 3. At 4 a.m., a police squad surrounded
the square and ordered the demonstrators to leave in accordance with park regulations. The
group left, but around an hour later they returned and the police arrested everyone hanging
around the place, including some who had had nothing to do with the demonstration.27 As
a result of the closing of several public places, many homeless people have either moved
away from downtown to surrounding boroughs or progressively retreated to private spaces,
leading to new kinds of conflicts with property owners (Côté, 2006). Recently, it has been
common to find homeless people in Montreal sleeping on the doorsteps of restaurants and
stores at night, relying on the tolerance and the compassion of their owners not to file offi-
cial complaints to the police because these are considered to be private spaces.
In the context of disorder policing, the street is both a negotiation field and a repres-
sive space in which dominant groups and private actors impose further restrictions on
others. In Montreal, as well as in many other cities, public spaces have been reorganized
and reordered in the context of disorder policing so as to create new barriers and signs of
exclusion that reduce the range of possible sensations, social practices, and interactions
(Harvey, 1990). This is clearly something that will eventually affect us all unless we are
able to identify the multiples sites of law and repression as well as their corresponding
points of resistance.
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Noise
1. Public meeting and noise
2. Noisy neighbors
3. Other noise
Disturbing Behavior
4. Public consumption of alcohol and
drugs
5. Spitting, urinating, littering
6. Presence of prostitutes/soliciting
7. Bothersome presence of homeless per-
sons or beggars
8. Bothersome presence of “squeegees”
9. Rowdiness (bikes, skateboards, and
skates)
10. Other disturbing behavior
11. Other offenses
Drug Trafcking
12. Drug trafficking in the streets, in parks
or other public places
Vandalism
28. Graffiti
29. Degrading of public equipment
30. Other acts of vandalism
Environmental Misconduct
31. Abandoned and/or demolished
buildings
32. Abandoning various objects and
rubbish
Driver Misconduct
13. Conflicts between drivers (“rage au
volant”)
14. Racing and noisy engine
15. Rowdiness by car (e.g., zigzag, refusal
to yield)
16. Other offenses related to traffic
Conicts Between Citizens
17. Verbal violence
18. Other conflicts
19. Violent demonstration
20. Demonstration
21. Fighting: rowdiness, little violence
22. Fighting: more serious
Other Social Disorders
23. Indecent acts
24. Persons to expel
25. Animals (biting or stray)
26. Threats, intimidation, harassment, and
indecent words
27. Other incidents
Car Obstruction
33. Unlawful parking (zone for
handicapped persons, entrances, curb
entrances, private property, traffic
obstruction)
34. Abandoned car
ap p e n d i x 1. ca t e g o r I e s o f an t I s o c I a l be h a v I o r Id e n t I f I e d b y t h e Mo n t r e a l po l I c e
Social Disorders/Acts of Antisocial Behavior
Physical Disorders/Signs of Antisocial Behavior
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... Cette définition fait notamment écho à celle d' Ellickson (1996) (Sampson et Raudenbush, 2000 ;Damon, 1997 ;Damon, 2012 ;Bannister, Fyfe et Kearns, 2006 ;Phillips et Smith, 2003 ;Edyvane, 2016 ;Fortin, 2015 ;Sylvestre, 2010 ;O'Brien, Farrell et Welsh, 2019). Cette « théorie » serait en fait un archétype scientifique qui ne coïncide pas avec la réalité sociale. ...
... La transformation des personnes mendiantes en objets urbains, au même titre qu'un pôle téléphonique ou un arrêt d'autobus (Blomley, 2007 ;2010) The complexities of politics, for example, are fit into and explained by scalar categories (is homelessness a local, regional or national issue?), running the risk of unduly narrowing the conversation. As we shall see, the city is treated as inevitably situated in the 'local' categorical box, with all that this smuggles in. ...
... Pensons aux bancs avec les accoudoirs que j'ai abordés plus haut ou encore aux espaces revitalisés pour la sont utilisées pour supprimer, voire déplacer, les comportements indésirables de l'espace public, ceci afin de maintenir l'ordre. À Montréal, certains chercheurs critiquent ces mesures pénales visant la population itinérante, car elles perpétuent notamment la théorie de la vitre brisée (Sylvestre, 2010;Fortin, 2015;. Selon Fortin (2018, 17), cette approche gestionnaire du maintien de l'ordre et les mesures punitives associées briment les droits constitutionnels et les libertés des personnes itinérantes et marginalisées dans l'espace public: ...
Thesis
Full-text available
This master thesis focuses on panhandling on the sidewalks of Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal in 2019-2020. Through this ethnographic research, I wanted to understand how panhandlers are encouraged to adopt desired and expected behaviors in the eyes of citizens. To answer this question, I first wanted to disentangle the terms “homelessness” and “panhandling” by showing that the latter consists of an activity which is also practiced by people in a situation of precarious housing or at risk of homelessness. Conceiving panhandling as an active rather than a passive practice, I wanted to get away from the one-sided concept that turns the panhandler into a recipient for charity. I looked at the forms of regulation that govern this activity in public space, taking into account the historical, social and legal transformations of sidewalks and panhandling since the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly in the North American context. By mobilizing the theoretical framework on governmentality and citizenship, I wanted to understand how panhandlers maintain a behavior pattern conveyed by ordinary citizens. To do this, I analyzed six types of relationships that panhandlers maintain on a daily basis while they practice their activity: relationships with passers-by / pedestrians, panhandlers and other marginalized people, with shopkeepers adjacent to panhandling places, with foot patrols officers, spaces, environment and places as well as the relationship to oneself and one's identity. Analytical data is based on participant observation and jotting notes. I have also used photography to capture urban social landscapes and complement the analysis of relationships to space, environment and places. From this descriptive analysis, I tend to demonstrate that there are multiple modes of producing governmentality on the sidewalk. First, the foot patrol officers, institutionalized social actors, convey formal and state control. They maintain public order and regulate the panhandling activity, in particular through the production of tolerance under constraint or conditional on the adoption of desired and orderly behaviors. They also use body positioning and movement tactics to avoid undesirable elements such as obstructions. Second, the control between pedestrians and panhandlers is achieved through the production of deference to pedestrians, the latter conveying a desired and orderly mode of driving and using the sidewalk in its dominant functions. Third, there is a form of delegation of power among panhandlers, thus making it possible to maintain informal order in absence of formal control. The analysis shows the presence of self-control and identity work among panhandlers, the latter aimed at not disturbing the order on the sidewalk. There is also informal control over the appropriation of the place of panhandling, ranging from violent control over others to self-control allowing negotiation and delineation of space. Finally, I tend to demonstrate that governmentality operates at the spatial level and that it helps to make certain behaviors appropriate rather than others, deemed undesirable. The analysis of marginal and prime spaces informs us about an unequal social, geographical and spatial relationship between ordinary citizens and panhandlers/homeless people. In conclusion, I want to demonstrate that panhandlers try to legitimize their presence in the eyes of ordinary citizens by practicing what I call ordered or ordinary panhandling. Key words: panhandling, begging, homelessness, sidewalk, social control, governementality, citizenship, geography, public space, public order
... By addressing concerns not only about crime itself but also about the fear of crime, these policies have gained a wider scope which also includes "subcriminal behavior"-mostly minor offenses which are seen as inconsistent with middle-class standards of conduct (Frevel, 2006). The reference to middle class is not accidental: According to Sylvestre (2010) the middle classes are the most important secondary target of such policies. While members of the middle class rarely find themselves on the receiving end of the bans on drinking, begging, and loitering, they are the primary audience of how these bans are performed. ...
... While members of the middle class rarely find themselves on the receiving end of the bans on drinking, begging, and loitering, they are the primary audience of how these bans are performed. By policing conduct in public spaces, cities hope to lure the middle classes back into their public space in an attempt to recreate what at least looks like a lively, informally controlled public space (Sylvestre, 2010). While this vision is what many, including the critics of incivility policing, will subscribe to, it is the means of achieving this goal which are contentious, as Atkinson puts it: 2 of 12 -POSPĚCH (R)esidential desires for safety and relative social homogeneity are influencing the choices made about public spaces in order to enjoy the experience of the street without its dangers. ...
... According to Calaresu, the most typically targeted incivilities include consumption of alcohol, prostitution, vandalism or damage to property, serving food and beverages, rubbish dumping, begging, noise and camping. Bans on alcohol consumption have been studied extensively (Dixon et al., 2006;Jayne et al., 2006), and a number of various policies are aimed against begging, loitering, and "hanging around" (Flint, 2006;Sylvestre, 2010;Weichselbaum, 2013), with dispersal orders allowing the police to ban selected individuals from certain areas (Beckett & Herbert, 2009). These measures often include bans on sitting and/or lying down in public space (Beckett & Herbert, 2009;Blomley, 2010;Mitchell, 1997) as activities associated with vagrancy (Ellickson, 1996;Feldman, 2004;Mitchell, 1995Mitchell, , 1997). ...
Article
Full-text available
Over the past 30 years, we have been witnessing a rise in incivility policing across western but also non‐western cities. The term “incivility policing” refers to bans and exclusion aimed at drinking alcohol, begging, loitering, sitting in public, and many other kinds of subcriminal conduct. Scholars have observed an increasing readiness to demand legal “solutions” aimed against these kinds of conduct. In this paper, I review two major strands of scholarship dealing with the origins of these calls: First, a rising punitiveness and a “law and order” mentality, inspired by the Broken windows theory and Zero tolerance policies. Second, privatization of space and the rising influence of private actors over public spaces are discussed with references to the concepts of neoliberalism, revanchism, and the right to the city. The effect of incivility policing on vulnerable groups is examined using the example of homeless people in public space. In the final part, I suggest new factors which could help us understand the rise in incivility policing: These include general trust, everyday trust, and the imaginaries of community.
... À un pôle, plusieurs études adoptent une approche principalement clinique afin d'expliquer la judiciarisation en mettant de l'avant des facteurs individuels et interpersonnels comme l'impulsivité, la toxicomanie et les traumatismes émotionnels (Crawford, Whitbeck et Hoyt, 2011 ;Edalati et al., 2020 ;Leclair et al., 2020 ;Roy et al., 2016). D'autres travaux mettent l'accent sur le rôle des appareils policier et judiciaire, par leur fonction de contrôle social de populations « hors norme », dans le maintien des taux d'implication judiciaire élevés (Chesnay, Bellot et Sylvestre, 2013 ;Sylvestre, 2010 ;Sylvestre, Bernier et Bellot, 2015). Dans les dernières décennies, plusieurs pratiques décentralisées de régulation des populations en situation d'itinérance ont été ainsi mises en place, par exemple la multiplication des règlements municipaux dans le cadre de la « lutte aux incivilités », ce qui a laissé libre cours aux pratiques informelles de profilage social, et les modifications urbaines et architecturales visant à rendre invisibles ou repousser ces populations (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec, 2009 ;Nault, Couture-Glassco et Larose-Hébert, 2016 ;Sylvestre, Bellot, Ménard et Tremblay, 2011 ;Sylvestre, Blomley et Bellot, 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
(ENGLISH FOLLOWS.) RÉSUMÉ. Plusieurs programmes et services ont été développés en vue d’adapter les interventions policières et les processus judiciaires aux besoins des personnes ayant des troubles mentaux, de surcroît lorsque celles-ci sont en situation d’itinérance. La présente étude adopte un devis qualitatif descriptif afin d’explorer l’expérience qu’ont les personnes vivant à la fois une situation d’itinérance et un trouble mental de ces services. L’analyse de six entretiens révèle les représentations complexes que se font les participants de leur implication judiciaire, entre sentiment de responsabilité et d’injustice ; le manque de légitimité vécu dans la plupart de leurs interactions, auquel l’accompagnement offre parfois un contrepoids ; et enfin des perceptions distinctes des services selon leur nature « régulière » ou « alternative ». Les participants mettent à l’avant-plan dans leurs récits les principes de la justice procédurale, en particulier ce que des processus dits « alternatifs » permettent à cet égard, mais également le caractère exceptionnel d’interactions respectant ces principes. Les résultats nous amènent à interroger la capacité des diverses institutions sociales à offrir des services vécus comme justes par les personnes situées au confluent d’identités sociales marginalisées, à différents moments de leurs parcours. /// ABSTRACT. Several programs and agencies have been developed and implemented in attempts to adapt police and legal processes to the needs of people living with mental illness, especially those who experience homelessness. The present qualitative descriptive study examines how homeless people with mental illness experience police and justice-related services. Analysis of six interviews reveals complex attitudes toward involvement with these services, including feelings of responsibility and injustice ; the perception that most programs and agencies are not fulfilling their mandates, although this failure is sometimes counterbalanced by positive experiences with community-based support programs ; and different views of those services considered to be either “regular” or “alternative” processes. Participants emphasized the principles of procedural justice – in particular what procedures labelled “alternative” offered in this regard, although they noted that even these interactions were unlikely to fully respect these principles. Our results raise questions about the ability of different social institutions to offer services that will be considered fair by individuals who experience convergent marginalized identities and are at different stages along their personal trajectories.
Article
Day-to-day management of street vending is much more a matter of starting negotiations, mediating between the interests of distinct groups, and making agreements, than it is about enforcing confusing and at times contradictory legal mechanisms with limited effectiveness. Based on the results of extended fieldwork in a low-income outer locality of Bogotá (Ciudad Bolívar), I will argue that street vendors and state representatives interact around a four-step dynamic known as the ‘ game’, which provides them with ‘working stability’ or high degrees of legitimacy, despite frequent arbitrary – and not just discretionary – interventions from the police and other state representatives. In short, the game works as follows: complaints against vendors build-up and interventions take place. Street vendors use different resistance strategies, but tension intensifies, then crisis is reached. As both parties have strong incentives to negotiate, they reach basic coexistence agreements. Vendors fail to comply with the agreements because regulations made to sanitize poverty and to hide the face of misery are rarely applicable. The cycle restarts. I conclude by arguing that efforts to eliminate or limit street vending will not be successful or sustainable until the state makes the political and fiscal commitment to offer substantial employment programs and/or guarantee a minimum income to vulnerable families.
Thesis
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