Last week the Montréal press revealed that the City of Montreal Police are in the process of purchasing two models of the American-made LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) to add to the municipal police crowd-control arsenal.
Through the purchase of these devices Montréal Police gain the ability to overcome people’s sensory tolerance for sound, with an ear-piercing noise designed to not only deafen but to cause physical pain to the ear. Of the two models ordered, one LRAD, the 300 X, can operate at 143 decibels and in close proximity would physically blow out a person’s eardrum.
This is a new scale of violence for the Montréal police, and I find this news very troubling. The Montréal police, especially in the months and years since the student strikes of the Printemps d’Erable, have developed a reputation for violating peoples rights to free assembly, using illegal techniques such as “kettling”, as well as outright violence against peaceful protesters. Now, with the addition of two sound cannons to the police armoury, the forces of law and order will gain the ability to rob people of their rights to freedom of speech as well.
This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about the LRAD. Back in 2010, when Toronto moved to purchase an LRAD just before the G20 summit, I wrote a lengthy essay called “Sound Cannons: Acoustic Imperialism and the Power of Noise“. Much of what I wrote in that essay still holds true: that sound cannons embody the militarization of noise, and are most often used to drown out voices of dissent and disperse crowds of protesters. But more importantly the LRAD and its deployment are revealing of dynamics of power, voice, and silencing that operate in our society. I’ve also blogged about the LRAD and militarization of sound here, and dealt with other noise-emitting devices designed to silence as well.
I urge you to read up on the LRAD and think about what it is designed to do, especially in relation to the dynamic between power and loud noise. As the voices of dissent in our society become louder and more insistent, it is only natural that the status quo would seek to drown out and disperse discord with its own display of sonic power. It is revealing that this tactic – the silencing of dissent through militarized noise – is the tactic chosen over tolerance, discussion, and listening. In a democracy such as ours, the health of political discourse should be measured by the vibrancy and coloured cacophony of debate. To resort to drowning out dissent with painful waves of screaming electronic vibration, sounds, to me at least, quite alarming.