Katie Nelson didn’t come to Montreal in May 2012 to defend the rights of protesters by setting legal precedent. But the solidarity action that brought her here was designed to help student protesters deal with police abuses in a different way.
“They had stopped selling Maalox in Montreal which is the treatment for pepper spray and teargass,” the Alberta-born activist recounted, “Victoriaville had just happened and we booked tickets the next day to come. We couldn’t do any medical treatment, so we bought a whole bunch of Maalox and flew over.”
She was only supposed to stay five days. Now, a year and over $6000 in fines later, fines for things like spitting on the street, swearing and ashing her cigarette, she is suing the city and the SPVM, with the help of Julius Grey who is working pro-bono, for political profiling.
The harassment started shortly after she, along with fellow activists, started a Facebook group to crowdsource evidence of police abuses so complaints couldn’t be dismissed. They looked for photos, badge numbers and videos and they got plenty.
“Once it picked up popular movement every night and people started seeing us filming everything,” she observed, “then it became everyone doing it so at no point would you see that riot cops weren’t surrounded by fifty cellphones.”
Police then started referring to Nelson as “Miss Alberta” until they gave her a ticket and got her name. Soon, they were biking by her at protests saying “allo Katie” and fining her indiscriminately. They even fined someone who looked like her for spitting on the ground at a protest outside of City Hall which Nelson had already left and referred to the other woman as Katie before discovering that it was someone else.
You may have seen Nelson’s story on CTV, Global, The Gazette, the Journal de Montreal or even Sun News. If you did and read the comments, you’d know that while some prominent people on the left and right of the political spectrum who were both for and against last year’s student strike now support her case out of principle, Nelson still has her detractors who seem concerned with her employment status above all else.
“A lot of people think we don’t have jobs,” she commented on the commentators, “I have a job and I’m a student. I work at a school and I go to school.”
Nelson is studying Philosophy at Concordia this fall. She isn’t taking Political Science. Nelson is an anarchist who feels that the solution to our problem lies outside of the political system and the state.
Some, both right wingers and even a few fellow anarchists, have taken issue with someone opposed to the state using one of its tools. Nelson doesn’t think this is a problem, but rather an opportunity.
“I think that it catches people by surprise because we really rail against the justice system,” she argued, “I really disagree with how corrupt our court system is, but I think if we lose it’s a win for us because we can show that we brought all this evidence forward and the judge still declined it and if we win it shows that an anarchist can successfully use the justice system as a tool.”
Nelson doesn’t think that a victory would vindicate the system. Rather, she feels others could look to the steps she took, such as using the media to put pressure on the courts, as a way to deal with injustice under an already unjust system.
“Not necessarily does it say that the justice system is correct,” she said, “it says that political profiling is wrong. I see it as a medium for a message right now.”
If she does win, she doesn’t have any allusions that the police will behave any differently. She does think, though, that by setting a precedent, police won’t easily be able to get away with abuses in the long run.
“We’re going to be treated the exact same way,” she predicted, “we’re going to get beat up, people are going to be detained, it’s all going to continue to happen. I don’t expect that to change whatsoever, what I expect to change is police accountability.”
* photos by Valeria Bismar
UPDATE: Katie is currently fighting her various fines individually in court before her suit against the city and the SPVM begins. Updates are available on her blog maroisandme and you can help offset her legal fees and make a statement about the SPVM and political profiling through her GoFundMe Campaign.