Being polite is a highly overrated virtue, as anyone who spends much of their time talking to public relations people will tell you. Every sizable organization in the world protects itself with a phalanx of public relations people. Armed only with his tongue and a how-to manual chock-full of platitudes, your average PR flack is trained to do one thing and one thing only: polite you to death. There are exceptions, but this is the general rule: Whatever the cause, whatever the circumstances, public relations people are there to give a happy face and a verbal hand job.
Nothing wrong there of course, except when said flack knowingly distorts the truth. Montreal police spokesperson and flack extraordinaire André Durocher did just this recently, following the watershed April 26 demonstration in Montreal.
Are you tired of this story yet? Me too. It's been done to death, particularly in these pages. And that's the point. It has been proven that the cops mislead the public, the media and those few hundred protesters who were arrested that day in April. Yet no one, least of all Durocher, will own up.
Here's a quick recap. Following mass arrests of demonstrators on April 26, the police displayed several of the items seized that day. One item conspicuous by its absence was the 9 mm Durocher said was taken from someone arrested at the protest.
The inference was obvious, and written up as such in the next day's papers: Along with the bats, billiard balls and projectiles, protesters have begun carrying around firearms to really take care of The Man.
Without fail, every news outlet in the city reported that a gun was seized from a protester. Durocher's work was done: The media used the term "anti-globalization" and "firearm" in the same article. Durocher, through the papers, equated a high-powered handgun with the gas masks and billiard balls some of the more rambunctious and idiotic "protesters" carry around at times.
Here's the thing: None of it was true. Not a bit. The guy arrested, Tyson Brent Standford, was a gang member being followed by the anti-gang squad made up of police officers from the same force on duty at the April 26 demonstration. Given this, there are two possibilities: The Montreal police are either colossally dense, or they are lying through their teeth.
They could very well be both. Durocher couldn't get right the calibre of the gun seized by police - it was a .38, not a 9 mm. But people like Standford are a different breed entirely from your average peacenik. He has a record of gang-related crime, for one, and an obvious penchant for firearms. Even if they bungled the gang-related link on the day of arrest, they had close to 24 hours to check his record to find this out. In all likelihood, though, they would have known it all by the time Standford settled down for the night in his cell.
Yet Durocher made no mention of Standford or his links to a gang in the next day's press conference. Instead, Standford's gun wasn't a gang-related weapon, but a slightly deadlier version of a sock full of pool balls one of the real participants might have been carrying.
On that day, our favourite fuzz flack put on his game face and proceeded to mislead every journalist in the room. He is a smart bugger, to be sure: He never made the connection on his own, leaving it up to the deadline-ridden journalists to do that for themselves. And you can bet Durocher wasn't on the phone to the various newspapers the next morning, enraged at the mistake.
Scratch past the polite veneer of this particular flack, though, and you'll find a quite irritable beast underneath. He is sick of bothersome questions about a long-forgotten incident, from a piddling little weekly alternative paper, no less.
"You shouldn't speak to me, you should speak to the media," Durocher said when asked about the "mistake." "I'm there to report facts. We give the facts, the media reports it."
But the facts you gave (or at least inferred) were wrong, weren't they?
"I'm not going to get into a debate with you over this. If we wanted to get into a debate, you lead the population very often in a lot of things, and I don't get into it. That's your right."
There you have it folks, the leak-proof logic of the Montreal police: Because the media "leads" the public, it's okay to lead the media when it is convenient to do so.
"I won't answer any more questions concerning this," Durocher said, the interview well on its way into the toilet. His frustration mounting, Durocher's public relations chops came through and he managed this classic line just before hanging up:
"If you have any other questions, I'll be happy to take them."
Durocher misled the public. He took no steps to fix his apparent mistake. He reported the facts in such a way that they turned into lies in the next day's papers. And he was unabashed about doing it all.
Sad to say it, but André Durocher is very, very good at his job.
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