Jennifer Pawluck, who refers to herself online as 'Anarcommie', was charged back in 2013 after she took a picture of some anti-police graffiti, featuring senior Montreal police officer Cmdr. Ian Lafreniere, which she then posted to her Instagram account along with the hashtags “Un flic, une balle” (one cop, one bullet), “All Cops Are Bastards,” and the officers name. The image was a picture of the officer with a bullet in his head, an image which Pawluck didn't create herself but one which she shared with others. Pawluck has now this week been convicted on the matter of criminal harassment and intimidation, and she could be facing up to 6 months in jail or a $5,000 fine. She is also now prohibited from coming within one kilometer of Montreal police headquarters and her sentencing is scheduled to take place on May 14th, which is in just a few weeks.
When we take a look at the Canadian criminal code, it has this to say about criminal harassment:
For some, it's difficult to see how her actions constitute harassment against the officer, seeing as the image wasn't sent to him directly and wasn't even created by Pawluck herself. It is possible to see how the image's message could pass for “engaging in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family,” which would then qualify as having caused “that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.” However, “threatening conduct” is rather vague, and again Pawluck didn't create the image herself she was only sharing it.
Prosecutor Josiane Laplante said that the issue of freedom of expression was not commented on during trial, but that the focus was on the “harassment issue” regarding the incident. Laplante hopes that this case will result in increased online cautiousness. "I think it's very important to think of the impact we have when we put something on the Internet, the impact on other people when we post something," Laplante said.
This is a screen-shot of the image posted to Pawluck's social media page:
As you can see from the hashtags, some have suggested that she meant his name mentioned as a threat specifically, but others might see it and assume that she was simply tagging his name because the artwork was in fact a caricature of that officer himself she hash-tagged.
The Judge understandably wasn't impressed with the violent image, "seeing your face drawn, with a bullet in the head, one cannot help but feel threatened,... And this, even if you're a police officer,... We must be conscious that a simple click from a smartphone or computer, that takes just a fraction of a second, can have serious consequences,... At a time when social media is taking more and more place in our lives, we must be even more vigilant," said Quebec court Judge Marie-Josee Di Lallo. She also made it clear that she found no doubt that there was criteria necessary to convict Pawluck of harassment.
During the trial, officer Lafreniere stated that the image “shook him up,” and that his children and wife were scared for several months as a result of it. Pawluck stated during the court proceedings that the image was sent as a statement against police in general, and that it was not meant to be directed at Lafreniere specifically. Because of Pawlucks previous social activism however, the Judge expressed skepticism over her claim that it wasn't directed toward him specifically. Pawluck insists that she posted it because of artistic expression and that she did not mean for it to be threatening. Police spokesman Const. Dany Richer said that the issue extends beyond the posting of the image online, but police won't give any further details.
If people are to be arrested and convicted for sharing this photo alone, then wouldn't CBC and other mainstream and alternative media venues now fall under that discretion since they too have shared the image? The simple action of sharing the image alone doesn't constitute harassment then, does it? "There are circumstances that surrounded the publication of this image, circumstances that we can reveal because it is still under investigation," said the police spokesman. Pawluck has been extensively involved in the student protests in Quebec and an avid supporter of the student movement there.
Defense attorney Eric Sutton has insinuated that he thinks Pawluck's arrest is about trying to send a message to the public. "I think this may be somewhat of a political statement by the police that they have zero tolerance for anything that's seen as threatening to their image," he said.
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