Several media outlets reported this week that the Montreal police have released photos of “looters” caught on camera in the celebration/riot following the Canadiens’ Game 7 win last Wednesday, and are asking for the public’s help in identifying suspects. The pictures are published with the stories, revealing images of youth of colour in various incriminating poses. We’re assured by Service de police de la ville de Montréal (SPVM) spokesperson Sgt. Ian Lafrenière that the “violence”—a few broken windows—was carried out by a small criminal minority, and that “real Habs fans are giving police images that might help them find the offenders.”
I was in the streets for a few jubilant hours following the game, and to the naked eye it seemed a pretty white crowd. At the very least, there were enough drunken fans of various ethnic backgrounds present that I think it’s very unlikely that the only people hitting up free alcohol at the SAQ were teenagers of colour. Profiling works in insidious ways. By releasing these photos the SPVM are able to draw from the deep well of racist stereotypes about criminal black youth available in dominant culture, while simultaneously downplaying the spectre of generalized anti-police rage that is always waiting in the wings at these mass hockey celebrations.
Equally disgusting is the way in which this designation of “real Habs fans” plays into the racist history of hockey as a sport. Hockey has long had the dismal distinction of being one of the least-integrated of the professional sports. It occupies a central place in the myth-symbol complex of Canada as a utopic “Great White North”—think Tim Horton’s, bonfires, hot chocolate, The Hockey Sweater. Due to its relatively high cost (ice rentals, equipment, tournament fees, travel costs, etc.), it is also firmly part of a middle-class lifestyle with which fewer and fewer people in this country can identify.
And yet, hockey mania cuts across classes and racial backgrounds, especially in Montreal. In the youth program where I’m employed in the working-class neighbourhood of Pointe St. Charles, I celebrated the Habs win with kids from Irish backgrounds, along with children whose parents come from various parts of South Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Am I supposed to tell them that the SPVM has decided they can’t be “real” Habs fans? Loving the Canadiens has always been one thing that could unite divided anglophone and francophone communities in Montreal, becoming a permanent part of what it means to be a Montrealer or montréalais(e)—and, since the sad flight of the Nordiques, perhaps more generally a part of Quebec identity.
But this cynical collusion between the cops and the media reveals that people of colour, whatever their language, are excluded from any sense of “belonging” in this city. This means that cops like Jean-Loup Lapointe can kill Fredy Villeneuva without fear of recrimination, while the inquest into his death is turned into an investigation of his brother Dany’s “gang connections.” It means that the SPVM, despite its recent and offensive PR attempts to talk multiculturalism, can continue its reign of terror over marginalized and racialized communities in this city. So we should cheer the Habs on. But not as loudly as we should denounce this city’s flagrantly racist police force.
Related on maisonneuve.org: