He didn’t have to; but he did. Sylvain put himself in harm’s way for the reporter working the story and that happened to be me. Moments before our live report for Thursday’s evening newscast, the cameraman asked Sylvain to leave the comfort of our nearby microwave truck because masked protesters were approaching our camera.
We were covering yet another student demonstration and, typically, thugs had latched onto the protest in a bid to incite violence. Three police cruisers, a city bus and a building had been spray-painted; not as bad as the anti-police brutality march several days before.
The students themselves were fine; polite and having a good time listening to music, eating hot dogs and throwing frisbees. The masked punks had been lurking around our camera and the cameras of other television crews near us.
I went on the air and began my report, not knowing the group of masked protesters was approaching from behind. I introduced a taped report and put my microphone down by my side waiting for my cue to resume speaking.
Watching the tape later, the thug closest to me is suddenly pulled from the television shot. That was Sylvain, likely saving me from some kind of trouble. As I stood in front of the camera waiting for my cue, Sylvain was surrounded by the hostile group. He, warning them not to touch me, they, screaming back at him, while gesturing aggresively.
I decided to shorten what I had originally planned to say because, to have continued live on the air for any length of time would, I believed, have invited an ugly disruption. I decided to let the audience know there were hostile protesters bothering us before proceeding with a hasty sign-off.
As my cue came and, with one of the protesters standing beside me, I decided not to refer to the hostile demonstrators at all and attempted to do a quick, generic sign-off. At the time, I felt like I was blithering, but colleagues later claimed it wasn’t as bad as it felt. I haven’t watched it again.
The taped report was about two minutes long and for those two minutes and the thirty seconds before, while I was on the air, oblivious, the monopod-wielding Sylvain stood his ground. As we packed our gear amid shouts, security arrived. Sylvain rolled up wires and lowered the mast on the microwave truck. I shook his hand, thanked him and we left.
Back at the station, the anchor told me I look scared, others said I appeared quite composed. The same day, David, another cameraman at the station, had been punched in the side of the head by an unruly demonstrator. Someone also claimed a television reporter had recently had a tomato smashed over their head during a demonstration.
Sylvain is an intense, high-energy, hard worker who makes it happen regardless of whether it’s possible to do, or impossible to do. In February, we had been sent to an apparent hostage-taking at the corner of Pie IX and Belanger. He had accidentally locked the keys in the microwave truck which had its mast up and motor running. The battery on the camera died. He borrowed a battery from a cameraman with another station and we did our report. The collapsible, seven-section mast, sixty feet high, didn’t go all the way down because humidity from the indoor parking garage had frozen in the cold air. As we waited for a taxi to arrive with a spare key, we hopped up and down on the back of the truck and rocked it from side-to-side in an effort to loosen the last frozen section of mast. We ended-up leaving the truck where it was parked, overnight. In spite of all the confounding variables, Sylvain made it happen.
For having our backs during Thursday's potential confrontation, I’ve nominated Sylvain for one of our office peer-to-peer awards. Encore, Sylvain, merci, mille fois.