Pointe-St-Charles and for that matter a good chunk of southwest Montréal has been undergoing gentrification for the past few years. New condo projects have been springing up along the Lachine Canal, essentially cutting off the waterfront from the neighbourhoods that border it.
One project sought to change the hyper-capitalist trend sweeping the area and turn an abandoned candle factory into an autonomous social centre for the community by squatting it. It lasted less than 24 hours. Yesterday afternoon, Montreal Police, at the request of the building owner who plans to turn the space into condos, sent in the riot squad, tear gas and all, to forcibly evict everyone from the premises.
The centre was supposed to house six autonomous projects: a showbar to shine the spotlight on underground artists, an itinerant cinema, a library, a place for socio-political workshops, the “velo-libre” bicycle repair project which hoped to have its own fleet of bikes on the streets to rival Mayor Tremblay’s capitalist-modeled Bixi program and the “tube digestif” which is a collective kitchen, a food recuperation project (think dumpster-diving) and an urban fermaculture project rolled into one, complete with compost toilets.
While many squats are a place to live for those who can’t afford to pay rents, this one was different. A small select group of people were supposed to live on-site, but only with the intention of keeping the squat going by having a presence there 24/7. The main goal of the ASC was to offer a non-capitalist space for the community to congregate.
The centre was supposed to open officially tonight at 8pm. It was inaugurated yesterday evening with an action that brought out over 500 supporters and saw artistic interventions happening outside of the ASC. These supporters along with the over 70 community and cultural groups lent their voices in solidarity were supposed to be key to the project’s success because of where the endeavor stood legally.
While squats are common and tolerated by authorities all across Europe, North America and Montreal in particular are a different story. In fact, this city has clamped down on squats, regardless of media coverage they have received. Generally, though, they last considerably longer than the ASC did.
The idea for the ASC originated in 2007 and was developed over the course of two years. Last summer, the group behind it hosted Réclame ta Pointe, a series of performances and workshops that was well-received by the residents of Pointe-St-Charles and other Montrealers. They had also done quite a bit of work in the community, fostering support for the project.
Despite all of this planning and community support, the eviction was quick. Police had made plans to peacefully meet with organizers in front of the occupied building on the corner of St-Patrick and Atwater at 3pm yesterday but instead stormed the gate, cut the locks and when the people who had come out to meet them rushed back inside and locked the door, the cops sent “snipers” to the roof of the building who, according to witnesses, fired tear gas through the open windows and then closed them.
The people outside, many of them families enjoying the sun, eating and playing music, joined a growing protest against the police action. They were soon joined by people from the inside, including young children who had been exposed to police tear gas. A small group broke off and tried to occupy an alternate building but after police followed them there and they discovered it was uninhabitable at the moment, they left.
Now the groups and people who supported the ASC have a new role to play, forwarding the press release, spreading the word and contacting the media. The next stage is a protest in front of the South West Borough Council meeting (815 Bel Air, near Lionel-Groulx metro) this coming Tuesday, June 2nd, at 6pm.
According to the ASC’s website, “the Social Center project continues. The struggle continues. We will not be squashed by what has happened today. On the contrary: our will to put into practice our dreams for a society free of authoritarian relationships, based on principles of autonomy, mutual aid and respect, is only reinforced.”