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Friday, September 7, 2012

True Crime on Twitter

Earlier this week, the Quebec provincial election was soured by a tragic shooting. While Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois was in the middle of her victory speech, a man dressed in a bathrobe and ski mask opened fire, killing one man and injuring another.

Pauline Marois is escorted from the stage during her speech. Picture from

I'm not here to lament the tragedy of what happened. It was unarguably sad, senseless, and shameful.

I'm here to talk about the response to what went on. Like most currents events, I first learned of this shooting on Twitter. As I scrolled through my feed throughout the election, the tweets ranged from the skeptical and jubilant ("Quebec's first female premier!" "The PQ won?! What does that mean for Canada?") to gradual horror and shock, as the first tweets reporting on the shooting started to roll in.

What caught my attention were the tweets from the official Twitter account of the Montreal police (or Police Montréal), retweeted by some Winnipeg journalists I follow. As Tuesday evening's events were unfolding, the Montreal police sent out a steady stream of tweets informing their followers of what was going on.

Display picture for Police Montreal (@SVPM).

I didn't follow the Montreal police on Twitter before Tuesday evening. I didn't know they had a Twitter account. I didn't even know police forces were allowed to have Twitter accounts, given the tight-lipped nature of the force in my own city, Winnipeg.

I can't pretend I understand the laws that state what the police and cannot say during times of crisis. But I remember this past June when a young woman was stabbed to death outside her apartment, the official statement from the police was that she died under suspicious circumstances. Witnesses said she was stabbed. The media said she was stabbed. But the police kept mum. Why? When everyone already knows what's going on, why did it take them so long to say anything?

A quick search on Twitter reveals that there are two Twitter accounts for the Winnipeg police, but neither of them are official, and one of them hasn't been updated in over two years. For a city that's repeatedly cited as the most dangerous in Canada, isn't it about time our law enforcers start communicating with us?

Please, if I'm totally ignorant about this, let me know. This is something I'm trying to understand, and I am in no way trying to slam or put down our police officers.

Thanks for reading!

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