Charest’s Political Prisoners

may 23 kettle

After a couple of nights of pavement pounding, I decided to settle in for a bit of armchair activism. I fired up CUTV and Twitter and watched what was happening in the streets of Montreal.

“Oh, man,” I thought, “this one looks fun!”

The mood seemed so festive. All the protesters looked like they were having a great time. It wasn’t just the main march, there were impromptu marches and people banging on pots and pans all over the city.

While I caught some reports of police repression in Quebec City, what was happening in Montreal was the very definition of a peaceful protest. I went  into the kitchen to make a snack.

When I came back, the mood had changed…significantly. Hundreds of people were now being kettled by the SPVM on St-Denis just north of Sherbrooke. They were still peaceful, but the cops seemed anything but.

From my vantage point, the same one that roughly 6000 live viewers had, one cop was telling journalists that they had to turn off the camera and mic if they wanted to get out of the kettle:

http://youtu.be/GyNVTAV84jw

Nevermind the fact that anyone, not just media, have the right (and some feel the duty) to observe and document police actions with any electronic means at their disposal. Nevermind the fact that this officer was just being an all-out jerk and probably only stopped because the Twitterverse got word of what was happening to his superiors. The message was loud and clear, the SPVM didn’t want the world seeing what they were doing.

And why would they? For the first time in this 100+ days conflict they were arresting a large group of people without the usual megaphone dispersal warning and without a pretext that they could later use as justification.

There were rumors of rocks being thrown, rumors later repeated in the mainstream media because the source of the allegations was a police spokesperson. Throwing stuff really didn’t jive with the festive feeling on the streets that night. If you factor in that Public Security Minister Jean-Marc Fournier wanted mass arrests and the SPVM’s almost baiting approach both on the streets and Twitter, you start to get a clearer picture.

They were, for the first time, enforcing Bill 78 (in this case, technically a municipal bylaw that mirrored one of the bill’s parts and carried a slightly smaller fine, but the argument remains). They were arresting peaceful protesters whose only crime was being in a group larger than 50 people without having provided an itinerary eight hours prior.

While my heart and sympathies go out to all the people who got scooped up for happening to be there when the state decided to rear its ugly head, my pity goes to the cops, tasked with being on the wrong side of history. As Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir reminded the press after trying to negotiate with the authorities on the scene, “we have to remember that the police are an instrument…they are also victims of this absurd law.”

It is, after all, politics that brought in Bill 78 and inspired these arrests. Therefore, everyone arrested Wednesday night and those who will be arrested for doing nothing more than exercising their charter rights in a way the government disapproves of are political prisoners. Yes, Jean Charest has taken political prisoners.

I’ll give you a minute to let the absolute absurdity of the situation sink in. A premier with a razor-thin majority government is detaining free citizens at will. Now I’ll give you another minute to let the outrage grow. There were more arrests Wednesday night alone than during the entire October Crisis. For those who don’t remember, the October Crisis involved kidnapping, bombs and murder. The Maple Spring involves people walking around wearing red felt squares and banging on pots and pans.

Fortunately, those pots and pans and the generally festive nature the protests have taken lately are the light at the end of the tunnel and the path towards winning the war. If you have political prisoners, you usually have a full blown social uprising to go along with them. Now, in Quebec, we have just that.

As word spread of the kettled protesters Wednesday, people started showing up and staged an impromptu sit-in on the other side of the barricade, pots and pans in hand. A truly beautiful moment of resistance and one that is now being repeated nightly all around the city.

At 8pm, ordinary people start banging on pots and pans from their balconies, in parks, on the street, you name it. When they see others doing the same, they congregate and sometimes they march, regardless of whether the group is 20 or 200 people. This is spontaneous and peaceful disobedience at its finest.

It is a thing of beauty and it inspired this now viral video, also a thing of beauty:

Now it’s spreading beyond Montreal, to other parts of Quebec and just today to Toronto. The red square itself has already spread further, including the states and Europe.

Quebec is now the focal point for peaceful social uprising and civil disobedience. Charest’s political prisoners were not taken in vain.

* Images: Canadian Press, Globe & Mail

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