MONTREAL – A Montreal woman is facing a criminal charge after posting a photo online of graffiti showing a senior police officer with a bullet in his head.
Jennifer Pawluck was placed under arrest on Wednesday, released under conditions and ordered to appear before a judge at a later date to face a charge of criminal harassment.
On Thursday, the debate continued on social media sites and in mainstream media over whether a criminal charge was necessary in such circumstances.
The picture she snapped is of a graffiti drawing of Cmdr. Ian Lafreniere, a longtime Montreal police spokesman and one of the most visible faces of the force.
The photo appeared on her Instagram feed, a picture-sharing social media site.
Pawluck says she did not draw the graffiti in an east-end Montreal neighbourhood. It had the name “Ian Lafreniere” scrawled next to it and is unsigned. The caricature was wearing a uniform with the name “Ian” on the pocket.
Lafreniere is the police force’s main public spokesman, especially on TV, when major events such as student protests or hockey riots break out.
The anti-police street artwork has since been removed from the wall of a commercial building. Pawluck took the photo on March 26 according to her Instagram feed.
The picture has made the rounds of websites and social media sites, with news of Pawluck’s arrest being picked up by multiple media outlets.
There has been debate online on whether the charge was overblown when a warning might have sufficed. Pawluck’s supporters have called for a show of solidarity at the Montreal courthouse on April 17 when she is set to appear.
Police defended the decision to proceed with charges. Spokeswoman Anie Lemieux says it’s zero tolerance when lawyers, judges or police officers are believed to be targeted.
Lemieux said a prosecutor signed off on the arrest and that there is more to the case that can’t be publicly discussed.
“It’s something that is taken seriously and there is no tolerance when something like this targets someone from the justice system,” Lemieux said. “In this case, it’s a police officer and it’s being taken very seriously.”
Police have only said that information from the public led them to a suspect.
Authorities have not identified Pawluck, but the 20-year-old has taken to social media herself to make the case public.
Pawluck has no criminal record.
Attorney Robert La Haye says alleged social media threats are relatively new in the justice system and that social networks have a reach equal to or greater than mainstream media.
“It’s a new thing that we’re dealing with here, where we have an image of a police officer (allegedly) being threatened — is there something more to it’?” said La Haye.
“We don’t know. Probably not, but it’s still menacing. In that case, the most likely charge is uttering threats or criminal harassment.”
Pawluck has been active during anti-tuition protests over the past year and has admitted to being fined at least three times during marches deemed illegal by police.
In a video posted March 15 on YouTube, she’s seen discussing a police stun grenade going off near her.
She said on her Facebook page that she was picked up on Wednesday and informed she was being charged with criminal harassment against the police officer — a man she says she didn’t even know.
The charge against her states the alleged infraction occurred between March 29 and March 30.
After spending a few hours in a cell, she was released with a promise to appear at a later date. She says she refused to answer most of the questions asked of her.
In the meantime, she had conditions attached to her release: she can’t communicate directly or indirectly with Lafreniere or be within one kilometre of Montreal police headquarters.
Lafreniere has not commented himself.
– with files from Lise Millette in Montreal.