The Montreal Student Who Took a Picture of Anti-Police Graffiti Found Guilty of Criminal Harassment
The conviction stems from an incident in March 2013, wherein Jennifer Pawluck posted a picture of a mural clearly depicting police commander Ian Lafrenière with a bullet in his head.
Jennifer Pawluck, a 22-year-old student and activist, was found guilty of criminal harassment this afternoon in Montreal's provincial courthouse.
The conviction stems from an incident in March 2013, wherein Pawluck posted a picture of a mural clearly depicting police commander Ian Lafrenière with a bullet in his head followed by the hashtags #OneBulletOneCop and #AllCopsAreBastards.
Lafrenière is a 19-year veteran of Montreal's police force. He is also a media spokesperson for the City of Montreal Police Department (SPVM) which had to contend with the bulk of the 1,000 or so protests that took place during the spring of 2012, and was often accused of heavy handed crowd-control tactics.
Because of his media presence during the Maple Spring saga, Lafrenière became the face of the city's police at a time when tension between students and police was at an all-time high, making him an easy target for ridicule and threats.
So when Pawluck, who had been heavily involved with Maple Spring anti-tuition hike protests, posted the infamous photo on her now defunct "anarcommie" Instagram account, it was taken seriously. Very seriously.
Four days later, she was arrested and charged with criminal harassment, sparking intense debate about freedom of expression in the digital age.
"Many of my friends do not like the police," Pawluck told the Huffington Post Québec in 2013. "I thought it would be funny to put the picture on Instagram. I do not even know who he is, Ian Lafrenière."
In court last February, the student activist changed her tune slightly, stating that she didn't have a problem with the police per se, but rather with "what they represented."
"It wasn't my intention to target him personally," she testified, adding that she ultimately understood why Cmdt. Lafrenière would feel threatened. Still, Pawluck said she only took the photo because she liked the artwork and didn't even know who Lafrenière was when she stumbled upon the mural in the city's Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhood.
At trial, Pawluck's lawyer argued that posting a photo of graffiti on an Instagram account with 81 followers could not possibly constitute criminal harassment and that her her client lacked the criminal intent necessary to find her guilty of the offense.
Provincial Court judge Marie-Josée Di Lallo obviously did not buy it and instead found Pawluck guilty as charged, ruling that Lafrenière had reasonable grounds to feel threatened by the photo, the Montreal Gazette reported.
In her judgement, Di Lallo added that she had trouble believing that somebody as involved in the 2012 student protests—Pawluck had been arrested on three different occasions during protests—would not know who Lafrenière was, as she claimed.
During the trial, Cmdt. Lafrenière had testified that the photo had made him fear for his well-being and frightened his family to the point that his wife had to take time off work.
"I'd never been threatened like that, even when working on organized crime cases," he told the Court during the trial.
The Pawluck case may not have occupied that place for very long though, because within days, Quebec's provincial police, working in concert with the ATF and authorities in Birmingham, Alabama, uncovered a online plot to kill Cmdt. Lafrenière. When the two men involved in the plot were arrested, they were in possession of an AK-47 and planning to sell 200 silencers to undercover agents.
VICE spoke with Lafrenière, who said he would not be commenting on the case until after sentencing arguments are heard on May 14 in the Pawluck case—the day before a court appearance in the AK-47 case.
Follow Nick Rose on Twitter.