On Thursday evening, Anonymous Quebec effectively declared digital war on the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM)'s Chief Inspector Alain Bourdages, after a photo of him surfaced where he appears to casually pepper-spray nonviolent protesters at close range.
Anonymous has been monitoring the ongoing anti-austerity protests in Montreal since they began in earnest last month, and the vast majority of them have ended with a combination of arrests, tear gas, stun grenades, and pepper spray.
As a response to the violence at Wednesday's demonstration, Anonymous posted the photo to their Twitter with a promise to quickly identify Bourdages, who they nicknamed "Pepper Spray Man."
"From the moment we decided to crowd-source his identification by reaching out with the Twitter hashtag #FindPepperSprayMan to the moment we had his
name and rank was approximately 16 minutes,"an Anonymous Quebec spokesperson told VICE. "We timed it."
They also claimed that they attacked three web servers: the SPVM, the Montreal Fraternal Order of the Police, and the City of Montreal, during which time "the SPVM and FOP sites were taken down completely, and the city's web servers were severely impaired."
Anonymous has called for Bourdages to be fired and prosecuted for assault, which they hope would deter other police officers and public officials from repeating the same type of behavior. Though they have gone out of their way to draw attention to this one specific officer, they acknowledged that he is part of a much bigger problem.
"[It's] such an obvious and blatant violation of the most basic human rights,"they said. "This shit isn't even allowed in war under the Geneva Convention, [but] you would tolerate it done to peaceful student protesters?"
I reached out to the SPVM for comment and spoke with Ian Lafrenière, the Commander of Communications. Lafrenière acknowledged that the police are aware of Anonymous's targeting of Bourdages, but offered a different explanation for the events that led to the now-infamous photo.
He told me that this photo occurred around 3:10 PM on Wednesday behind the Universitédu Québec à Montréal (UQAM)'s pavilion building near Jeanne-Mance St. and St. Urbain St.
Lafrenière stated that there were four or five SPVM bike patrollers trying to block the entrance to the building, with approximately 100 to 200 students marching. He also said that an estimated 20 to 30 of the protesters near the front were acting aggressively towards the officers, which led them to place a distress call.
Bourdages, who was nearby, responded to the call and, according to Lafrenière, was moving towards the distressed officers when the photo in question was taken and used the pepper spray to keep protesters at bay while he passed.
He also stressed that distress calls are rare. "It means it's a top priority,"said Lafrenière.
"You don't use a distress call just for more cops."He estimated that the SPVM receive only about 100 distress calls per year, out of approximately one million intervention calls.
Regardless of whether or not that is exactly what happened, Anonymous says they are prepared to fight the good fight. "This shit, at least in Quebec,"they said, "ends with 'Pepper Spray Man.' No more. We need all of Canada and the world to rally around this and say, 'no fucking more.' We will do our part moving forward."
Anonymous stated that their immediate goal is to continue monitoring the safety of ongoing protests and to help those protesters whenever they are able to. They said they will also document any further instances of police brutality, as well as to continue with their plan to "dox" Bourdages and dump his personal information onto the Internet.
Asked about long-term plans, they stated, "Anonymous simply reacts. An opportunity presented itself to us in real-time and we had the knowledge of what to do and how to react within the context of that iconic moment. We don't plan stuff. We just DO stuff."
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