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Jennifer Pawluck (photo provided by Pawluck to Hyperallergic), and the street art photo that landed Jennifer Pawluck in hot water with Montreal police

Jennifer Pawluck, the Montrealer who was arrested in 2013 for posting a photo of a piece of street art on Instagram, has been convicted of criminal harassment and, on Thursday, was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and 18 months probation. Her community service must be completed within a year.

The 22-year-old college student has also been forbidden from posting any public messages on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and must restrict her use of the social media platforms to private communications for the next year, according to the Montreal Gazette. She had faced maximum penalties of up to six months in jail and a fine of $5,000.

Reached via Facebook, Pawluck told Hyperallergic: “I am unfortunately not responding to any media questions … following my sentencing I’d prefer to keep a very low profile.”

In late April Pawluck was found guilty for having posted a photo on Instagram of a piece of street art showing Ian Lafrenière, the lead officer for communications and media relations for the Montreal police, with a bullet wound in his forehead. Pawluck did not create the artwork, but merely saw it and posted a photo of it online. The image was accompanied by text that read “Ian Lafrenière” and “ACAB,” an acronym for “All Cops Are Bastards.” Pawluck had seen the piece of street art in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhood where she lives and posted it online accompanied by hashtags including “#ianlafreniere” and “#acab,” later claiming that she didn’t know who Lafrenière was. At the time, Pawluck had 81 followers.

“On the photo there were links, or hashtags, with Ian Lafrenière’s name written in different ways and allusions like (‘All cops are bastards’) and (‘One cop, one bullet’) to the point where, given the context, there was criminal harassment,” Josie Laplante, lawyer for the prosecution, told the National Post in April following Pawluck’s conviction. “I think we all have to pay attention to what we post because (some people) don’t consider the impact it can have on other individuals.”

Pawluck was a participant in the 2012 student protests in Montreal, during which Lafrenière was a very visible spokesperson for the city’s police force. He said in his testimony that he and his children had found the image disturbing, and that his wife had been forced to take a leave of absence from her job because of it.

“There is a limit that must not be crossed,” said judge Marie-Josée Di Lallo when delivering her verdict on April 23. “She (Pawluck) felt anger toward the police.”

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

67 replies on “Woman Found Guilty of Criminal Harassment for Instagramming Street Art”

  1. governments around the world seem desperate to hold onto their old understandings .. they are so thin-skinned, from bahrain to canada, and i think it is because they know times have changed, yet they are unwilling to let go ..

    this case is simply stupid .. wonder what’s really involved

    1. If somebody drew a picture of me. With a bullet in my head. Posted it in my city. Named me. And either they or somebody else involved in their side of an issue MY JOB as a spokesperson had placed me on the other side of, posted that TO EVERY POSSIBLE interested party.

      AND THEN when people started calling my house. Harassing my kids and my spouse. I would want everybody possible to face charges.

      How would YOU feel if there was a wanted poster of you with a death sentence suggestion posted in YOUR city?

        1. That’s why I said everybody. She didn’t make the drawing (one assumes) but she did write out the threat and send it to this man’s work

          1. Writing ACAB is not a threat. Maybe it is in Canada where the police are a bunch of whining babies as are most of the AmeriKKKan police. Calling the police “bastards” does not constitute a threat, it just happens to be a fact. Even the one bullet, one cop slogan is not legally a threat.

          2. The court case that was won by the crown is the proof that the “one bullet, one cop” slogan is, in fact, legally a threat when it is sent to the cop (she posted it to his department, so while not directly TO him, it was where he was likely to see it) with a portrait of him with a bullet wound in his head.

          3. seems to me she just repeated what was on the graffiti and the news. she didn’t make up any of the abbreviations / slogans.

          4. She had been an activist in the protests where his face became known because he was the spokesperson for the police. So she knew who he was (or very well should have).

            She posted his image, with a bullet in his head, along with the slogan and this post was seen by him and his family. That means she caused him to feel threatened as a reasonable person.

            So, she didn’t coin the phrase, but she used it. There are plenty of times people utter the words of others in threats. You can’t just declare “but the phrasing wasn’t mine” in court when you’ve targeted an individual by name, with graphics AND the slogan.

          5. seems to me based on the published pictures, the bullet hole was in the original graffiti. since when is being an activist or protester against the law?

          6. She photographed the art, put it together with hashtags that included the man’s name and the slogan “one bullet, one cop.”

            So she created a message out of the picture and her words that the court found constituted a threat to the man who’s likeness it was and whose name she included.

      1. I live in New York City, and I would feel it went with the territory. This is not a particularly violent city, but people certainly mouth off a lot including threats of death, annihilation, hell, and so on. It is, of course, 99.99% idle blather. Maybe Montreal is different?

        1. Maybe.
          She crossed the line, as far as I’m concerned. I completely agree with people being able to rage against police, especially when they’ve been trying to change things and the police stand in their way (she was a protestor during the student protests that swept through there).

          But this is a man, clearly identified and named and depicted with a bullet hole through his head, then add her words to this and posting it everywhere for him and his family to see. One report said she posted it so it would be seen by his department, making it likely that he would get the message.

          If it had been general cops, with no identifier, if she had not included the extras, but just the image, which she thought was well done, that would be one thing, but she got very specific.

          1. In the United States, the fact that her ‘target’ is a public figure would operate to Ms. Instagrammer’s benefit. She could argue that the picture was symbolic political speech, and anyway, she was only reporting it, not originating it. I think she could get off. Canada is different, I realize. (As a major example, you could not have the Quebecois language laws in the U.S.)

            We have had some odd cases down here. Once, someone suggested that people should spit on a president she didn’t like. She was picked up for threatening to assassinate the President. She asked how spitting could possibly be equated with assassination. ‘Well’, answered the cops, ‘if enough people did it the President would drown.’

          2. Yeah, that might have worked here, too. But I don’t think the cop they choose to communicate with the media fits into that category well enough. He didn’t run for office.
            If it was our Prime Minister Harper…well, I don’t really know a portrait of him outside news articles and his own PR that DOESN’T have some mad twist to it (never saw a “Kill him” pic, but that’s not out of the question).

            Fun fact: he’s just pushed through a new bill that can redefine activist speech as “hate speech” and result in jail time. Now THAT’S what’s outrageous in the areas of speech up here.

            We’ve got to get this dictator out.

        1. This technology has us all confused about where the lines are. For a lot of people caught up in social media, it doesn’t seem serious to just forward or share something you see, but if you propagate something that meets the definition of death threat, then you end up arrested.

          Writing a threat (it wasn’t really the pic that got her in trouble, it was the writing) old school is just ink and paper (or crayon and paper), but it’s taken seriously.

          This guy and his family all testified about how they felt actually threatened. The judged found that a reasonable reaction.

          1. No, it’s always been the case with death threats that if a threat is uttered, and the person targeted feels threatened, the court has to decide whether that feeling is reasonable. The court will not decide against the accused if they don’t believe it is reasonable to be afraid.

            In this case, the court found the fear that this was a death threat to be reasonable.

          2. You’re not getting it. But here’s the bottom line: if you need to look up the laws in order to protect yourself from getting arrested over something you believe to be “the emotional insecurity” of fellow citizens, then do so immediately. Save yourself the fines and jail times.

            You live in a society of laws. However stupid you feel those laws are, they are still there. This particular law has been on the books for generations. It’s not like it came recently from the hurt feels of an insecure populous.

          3. older than this .. ancient teaching tales on this issue from the buddhist and sufi traditions .. my comment is more about a reflection about how different levels of consciousness endeavor to live together ..

            laws can be your thing

            enjoy

          4. “laws can be your thing

            “enjoy”

            If laws aren’t your thing, you need to go live on a mountain by yourself, because wherever humans need to live together, we need laws. Agreements that prevent us from acting against each other.

          5. no need to state the obvious .. but do consider that knowledge is different in different states of consciousness, and we can all grow in consciousness … thank you for being law-abiding, one less person to worry about

  2. I don’t understand this- Was she fined for simply posting the picture or did she create the original art depicting Lafrenière?

      1. Actually, it was the comments she posted with the picture suggesting that police should be killed that got her a sentence. She added “One cop, one bullet” in French, and “ACAB” an acronym that means “all cops are bastards.” She then linked the photograph and her comments to the local police social media site. Google her name; the Montreal Gazette describes the harassment of which she was convicted.

  3. She should move to the United States of Koch if she wants to communicate like that. It’s constitutional here. Not tasteful. But constitutional.

      1. All of the folks that turned to threats after she simply posted this picture should also be subjected to the law just as she did. Making an example of this woman for posting the picture and not holding all the other folks responsible for their own reactions as well is pointless.

      2. She made no threat. Others did. Direct threats. They should be prosecuted. Making an example of what she did and not going after those that actually made threats is weak at best in trying to control your critics.

    1. All of the people that actually physically threatened the policeman should also be punished. The absurdity is that our governments aren’t that much different. And yes the manifestos and constitutions sound great. But the political influence and skewed interpretations are equally intrusive.

  4. She was convicted of… taking a picture of street art & sharing it?!?

    Oh, Canada! Thank you for making America look less stupid & more free by default.

    1. No, she wasn’t. It was because of the comments she posted with it, and where she posted it.

  5. I really enjoy reading Hyperallergic’s posts, but this headline is misleading. She was convicted of harassment for sending the picture with comments that suggested the officer should be killed. The comments (one left out of the article was “one cop, one bullet”), the comments’ association with the street art, and her posting of it to the local police social media site, were the important parts of the conviction.

    1. That’s up for interpretation, and part of the problem with the whole thing. She does not explicitly say cops should be killed. And ACAB is a common phrase used around the world as a phrase of anti-authority rebellion.

      1. And her posting of it to his work site. With his name attached. Don’t forget that part.

      2. Agreed. A good defense lawyer would have gotten her off because the “threat” was vague and not specifically directed at the bald cop in the drawing. This is almost tantamount to the middle-school student who was expelled for “terroristic threats” when the student pointed his finger at the teacher as if it were a gun. Oh, and how about the student who drew her teacher hanging from a tree because the teacher gave her a low grade — suspended for a week. Top those Canada for being trivial, and if you do, you can replace AmeriKKKa as the top dog of ridiculousness.

    1. And when this free speech is a gay bashing, then what?
      Calls to violence are never okay, even when you or someone else agrees with it.

      1. People have a right to say and express their views in the United States. Is it something I would do or condone? No. But our very first amendment to our Constitution clearly stands up for one’s right to speak out without fear of governmental interference. Our Constitution was written in a time where if you spoke up; you got dragged off and tossed into a jail. There are limits on free speech and I am not sure I know all the facts of this case; but it seems to me on this issue the good old US of A is far advanced. We should be proud of our Bill of Rights.

  6. just when one thinks the canadians got their act together something like this appears. authority wants obedience!

  7. If someone told me I wasn’t allowed on social networks, I’d probably sue THEM. However, I do get this was a really aggressive art piece… still, if she didn’t do the art herself, it’s just stupid and it violates her rights, frankly.

    1. So if someone made a picture of you getting murdered, and then started posting it on your work’s facebook page and all over the internet…you’d have no problem with it, huh?

      1. People have suggested that I be killed. I imagine the Internet, like the low taverns of the world, is full of ‘death threats’ every day. In any case, I couldn’t take it seriously. It is clearly just idle b.s. There must be more going on here than meets the eye.

  8. This is not a free speech or art issue this is criminal harassment. It’s clear from her posts she knew who he was. No it is NOT acceptable to threaten peopel with violence and post it all over the internet.

    1. What should we do about all of the posters at demonstrations showing Obama with a rope around his neck? You obviously do not know the difference between free expressive art and a criminal act. With your attitude they will be silencing all of us within a few short years.

      1. This prosecution gives the authorities precedent, that allows them to use this case as a basis for any future prosecutions of a similar vane.
        “Silencing all of us within a few short years” more easily is one of the things this prosecution allows :-/

  9. There are a number of parallels here with another case recently covered on hyperallergic – http://hyperallergic-launch.newspackstaging.com/202049/student-accused-of-rape-by-mattress-carrying-artist-sues-columbia-university/. Both concern the tensions between freedom of artistic expression, free speech, ethics and legal responsibilities. And both regard artworks that call into question a single individual: an unnamed but implied man in the first case, a public figure explicitly portrayed/relayed in the second. The issues in both cases are complex, sensitive and deserving of on-going debate. My own feeling is that, as always, the freedoms claimed are not limitless principles exercised in a conceptual vacuum. As soon as the artwork is displayed, performed, posted or reblogged it’s in the social domain and must necessarily co-exist with ethical and legal responsibilities.

  10. THe beauty of street art is the way it allows unfilted uncensored messaging direct between the artist/author and the world. Howeever, just because it s done in the form of a piece of artwork does not free the artist from obligations not to make threats, not to be obscene etc. Clearly in this case the artist may have a charge to answer.

    Jennifer Pawluck as an observer, a documenter wouldn’t necessarily be inciting anger, hotility and violence just by instagramming the pic, no more than Mr Sutton is for reproducing it in his article onHyoerallergic. However, if she has gone on to create rather than report the “one cop- one bullet” comment, then she has a responsibility for the language used.

    Sorry Hraq, Mr Sutton, I’d agree with the earlier comment that your headline is disengenious and misleading

  11. I agree that democracy (ie myriad freedoms and access to information) is going the way of the dinosaur, and that Western governments are fighting tooth and nail to maintain control over their citizenry’s every thought through increased surveillance, data retention laws, and constant monitoring of the internet: everyone can see the hipocrisy of politicians who call out governments in Asia, Africa and The Middle East for doing the same thing.

    With that in mind, I think Ms Pawluck went too far in making thinly veiled threats or, at least, statements that could be manipulated into fitting that description. The image by itself is no big deal – we’ve all seen worse, but attaching death wishes to the cop’s name is inflaming the situation and advancing a rhetoric that clearly landed her in trouble with people who have no sense of humour. I don’t buy for a second the weepy tale of the wife taking time off, blah, blah, blah. That’s too easy. However, Pawluck gave them an easy way to use her as an example. She should have known better, really.

  12. quebec, where you don’t dare take a photo and repost it, without fear some beurocrat will cry like a baby… noted…

  13. Just another case to show the authorities mean business when it comes to shutting us up. (The pigs fight back)

    “and that his wife had been forced to take a leave of absence from her job because of it.” This line from above is the part that makes me laugh. They had to show extreme emotional damage in this overblown incident because there was nothing else on which they could hang this case. She had to leave work? What a load of BS, plain and simple.

    She should appeal this, she has a good case, especially that she did not create the artwork.

  14. Documenting public expressions and showing it to others is absolute free speech. Would they charge the author and publisher and printers of an art book on street graffiti if it included this picture? Since when is a picture of someone no matter how gross, illegal? This ruling threatens being alive. The rational that the Police Chief’s wife was traumatized is not an excuse. Someone painted a critique of a person performing a public job that affects the lives of everyone. Critique is not a crime. An image is not a shooting and documentation of the painting is only that. If the Police Chief and their family feel threatened by people being terrorized by Montreal police reacting with expressive communication, that is the result of their acts. This is the very purpose of criticism. Is criticism illegal? Am I guilty for posting this article that shows the image and is the publisher of the article? It is the Police acts which warrants inspection not the person reacting and criticizing these public servants who have become urban terrorists. Where was the National laywers Guild on this one. This should have had the best legal support on the planet.This is absolute bullsht.
    .

  15. I’d agree with this verdict if cops who brutalise and kill were treated as criminals too.

  16. As a publicity Photographer this is of great interest to me. The law will only get ‘heavier’ on people who think they are untouchable by social media posts. In short don’t post stuff that you think might come back and bite you.

  17. In the USA, we hold the freedom of speech sacrosanct. The ONLY reason the 1st amendment is present is to protect all speech, even hateful, vile, political and disgusting. Our founding fathers knew the value of free speech and it is the reason it is the first of the constitutional amendments that make up The United States’ Bill of Rights.

    I do not like what she said, but I do support her right to say it and I think the courts got it wrong.
    At what point do you cross the line of freedom of speech? Who makes the rules of speech? The government? Once you start to restrict any form of freedom of speech you start on the road to hell. Slowly at first but eventually speech will be restricted to the point you will not be allowed to complain about the limitations the Government has imposed upon us.
    Once Government sees it can control our collective speech, we will become servants of the government rather the way it should be, the Government are the servants of the free people.
    I support the police, I also support citizen oversight of these same police. I respect authority, I also question authority.
    Again, I do support the freedom of all speech, even vile and offensive..

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