Police who continue to sport camouflage pants on duty could face fines of $500 to $3,000 for each day they wear them under new legislation proposed by the Liberal government.
Acting on a promise made weeks ago, the province will legislate Quebec police officers and special constables back into proper uniforms.
Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux rose in the National Assembly Thursday to table Bill 133, an act to make wearing uniforms mandatory in the performance of duties.
The amount of the fine would double for repeat offenders, and for unions or union leaders who order their members to continue wearing camouflage pants, as they have for almost three years.
The bill argues police officers play an essential role in upholding the law and thus should display appropriate decorum, including proper uniforms.
It says the uniform is a “symbol of their authority and credibility (and) commands the respect they require to accomplish their mission.”
Thousands of police officers in Montreal, Laval and on the South Shore as well as special constables in courthouses and even the National Assembly ditched their uniforms between two and three years ago to protest reforms to their pension plans.
The powerful union representing Montreal police officers has already said it will challenge the bill in the courts and argue the choice of garb is a constitutional right.
As an essential service with no power to strike, Montreal’s police brotherhood said the camouflage pants, also referred to as clown pants by those less enthused with the pressure tactic, was one of their only means to fight for their rights.
Coiteux responded Thursday afternoon that the government of Quebec was not interfering with their right to free expression because police have other means with which to express their dissatisfaction, but he added that altering uniforms would no longer be one of those means. Coiteux is hoping to have the legislation passed before the current session ends in mid-June.
In late March, Coiteux said he had had enough of “a practice that is not acceptable.”
He was supported by the Union of Quebec Municipalities, which said in a statement Thursday the pressure tactic had worn on too long, “undermining the public’s confidence and respect in their police forces.” The organization noted it has been calling for a similar law since 2011.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre welcomed Coiteux’s announcement, saying the respect of authority and the role of a police officer comes with the uniform.
Bill 133, an act to make wearing of the uniform by police officers and special constables mandatory in their performance of their duties, reads in part:
In 2008 and 2009, the city of Montreal tried to argue before the Essential Services Council that the wearing of camouflage pants posed a security risk to the public and officers, because citizens had confused them for rioters and robbers instead of peace officers. The city also argued that the pants heightened tensions in volatile situations because the camouflage pants represented combat and confrontation, especially for some minority groups. The council ruled there was no evidence of a danger.
McGill University professor and labour specialist Barry Eidlin said in an earlier interview with the Montreal Gazette that the use of legislation to force police back into uniform was troubling, “because it’s an attempt (by the government) to short-circuit the collective bargaining process” and limit unions’ power.
At the same time, he said it appeared the pressure tactic has not proved effective, because most citizens probably don’t know what the unions are fighting for. A successful union movement requires multi-pronged tactics, Eidlin said, but the police force has not appeared to do much other than its uniform protest.