We can report that the lawsuit student protester Katie Nelson brought against the Montreal Police (SPVM), certain officers and the City of Montreal has been settled. That’s pretty much all we can report as Nelson isn’t allowed to discuss the terms of the settlement.
During the 2012 Quebec Student Protests (aka Maple Spring), Nelson amassed over $6000 in tickets including for things as banal as spitting on the street and swearing. Realizing that she was being specifically targeted by police and singled out for fines (some officers even referred to her by name), she decided to take the cops and the city to court for political profiling. We had a chance to speak with her in 2013 shortly after she launched the suit.
Since then, she had continued to participate in protests and speak out against various forms of oppression and violence, both caused by police and the state and not. All the while, she made many court appearances fighting her many citations and preparing for her profiling case.
In December 2015, she was attacked from behind and briefly hospitalized during a nighttime protest after she identified some officers from her case undercover dressed as protesters. She claims it was one of the undercover agent provocateurs who knocked her to the ground, a claim that was not confirmed by police but verified by photos and videos and others at the scene. The December incident was not part of the 2013 motion.
While Nelson’s lawsuit didn’t end with a mass public shaming of the Police Department and heads rolling (figuratively, of course) at the SPVM as a new precedent set as many may have hoped, it also didn’t end with Nelson losing and another unfortunate precedent set. The suit was settled, and that’s all we can tell you.
* Featured image by Thien Vo
Last Wednesday, so-called “pickup artist” and advocate of legal rape on private property Roosh V announced that the “global meetups” his Return of Kings group had been planning were cancelled. Some Montreal-based feminists including Katie Nelson didn’t buy it one bit. They tracked down where the still-on meetup was taking place and on Saturday confronted the local organizer and saw to it that the event wasn’t going to happen.
It’s not a new thing, really. In fact, it’s something people who participate in protests with less than a hundred thousand marchers have known for a while. It’s also something that numerous people (frequently visible minorities) who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time have been painfully aware of. Montreal police are out of control.
On Friday night, we got more proof that this, sadly, is very much the case.
Agent Provocateurs Get Identified and Violent
It was a night time anti-austerity demo. Montreal Police (SPVM), as usual, were out in full force. This time, though, some of them were part of the crowd, dressed as hardcore protesters ready to employ Black Bloc tactics. The police even admitted, after the fact, that there were undercover officers present.
One protester, Katie Nelson, who is well known to police because she is suing the department, the city and certain officers for political profiling, saw some of these fake activists trying to stir things up and make the crowd more rowdy and violent. A standard agent provocateur tactic: give the uniformed police and riot squad a justification to stop the protest and make arrests.
The thing is, Nelson recognized one of the undercover officers as someone who is a defendant in her lawsuit. As she told The Gazette, she confronted him with this and started to let her fellow protesters know that this man was a cop. He has since been identified by people who were there as Phillip Touchette, badge number 5886 (see featured image).
A few minutes later, she was on the ground. Someone wearing a mask had pushed her from behind before joining a group of police officers. She was released from the hospital early in the morning after suffering a concussion, a knee injury and a large contusion to the left arm which is now in a splint.
There are also reports of an officer brandishing a service revolver in front of a group of protesters.
A Threat to Society
One thing is clear. A police officer who decides to seriously injure someone who poses no threat to them physically and is not behaving in a violent manner clearly has unresolved rage issues. You get called out as an undercover cop, you walk over to the uniformed riot squad officers and disappear behind their shields. You don’t lash out or have your colleague lash out for you.
Maybe it was out of fear of looking like a failure to superiors or maybe anger over Nelson’s case. It doesn’t matter really. These cops should be given counselling at best, not a badge and a gun.
But is it really that simple? Can we simply chalk this up to a few bad apples? Will taking away their authority solve the problem? No, not at all. Though for the sake of society as a whole, they should be stripped of any authority.
Bad Choices at the Top: Laziness or Intimidation?
Forget for a moment the systemic problems inherent in an oppressive, militarized force used as defenders of the state. Instead take a look at the specific case of the SPVM and the decisions at the upper levels that went into what happened on Friday.
Nelson was able to identify the undercover officers because they were defendants in her case. The defendants in her case are all officers who were regular uniformed fixtures during the 2012 student protests in Montreal.
Think about that for a moment. Someone part of the SPVM brass thought it would be a good idea to use police whose faces are known to protestors as undercovers among those very same protestors. Can they really be surprised that someone identified one of them?
Are they really that careless? It’s possible. After all, the reason all those P-6 tickets got thrown out of court wasn’t because of the unconstitutional nature of the law itself, but the grossly unprofessional way the SPVM decided to issue the tickets.
Maybe they disrespect the protestors so much that they don’t think any of them will remember the faces that were wearing uniforms the other time they marched. Wouldn’t surprise me considering the kind of officers they hire.
This corner-cutting, half-assed attempt at a police state seems to be the Hallmark of the SPVM. Guess no one told them that totalitarianism is an all or nothing sort of thing. The word itself even starts with the word total.
Or, possibly, is there something else at play here. Something intentional. A special kind of asshole bravado, an intimidation tactic that boasts: “We don’t care if you can identify our undercovers, we’re going to send them anyways and if you call them out, you will be dealt with. Complain to the media all you want, people will ignore you.”
It seemed like that was going to be the case this time. Original reports from all media, except Concordia’s The Link (which did some really good on the spot reporting this time) treated Friday night’s events as routine: some violence, some arrests. It was only after Nelson’s story started making the rounds on social media that they started reporting the real story: undercover cops physically assaulting protesters for identifying them.
Whether the SPVM brass’ decision came from a place of laziness or arrogance, our response, as a public should come from a place of outrage. They let officers who clearly had violent tendencies they could not contain work undercover at a protest and as a result, someone ended up with serious injuries for merely performing a community service by identifying police who were in the protest to cause trouble.
The Montreal Police are out of control and something needs to be done.
Montreal’s police department, the SPVM, has finally crossed a line that they can’t very easily step back over. It’s not their blatant violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms while enforcing Municipal Bylaw P6, it’s not their mass-kettling of peaceful protestors, the SPVM seem to be getting away with both those infractions on our liberty.
No, this is something more heinous than even the most hardened recipient of police repression can fathom. It’s their choice of font. Yes, we have obtained a copy of an official document, a disclosure of evidence before trial for being at an “illegal protest” (which, for those of us that can remember a time before P-6, means being at a protest), and it is written in Comic Sans MS. Yes, the most hated of all fonts.
Katie Nelson is one of hundreds of people who recieved this document today. She is also the recipient of many other SPVM documents (she’s suing the city for political profiling) and thinks that the SPVM’s choice of font is indicative of the way our police department has been behaving.
“Comic Sans MS is friendly looking but an incredible violation of the art of calligraphy,” Nelson argues, “it may look cute with it’s rounded edges and curly js, but looks can be deceiving. Just like P6, which claims to ensure the safety of participants but is really only an unconstitutional anti-protest law intended to violate the basic right of dissent.”
Are we Montrealers going to stand for this. Comic Sans MS on official police documents is an affront to common decency. C’mon, this isn’t 1998, back then we had the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
If we push and push hard against the SPVM’s use of Comic Sans MS and win, it will be a great victory, one we can all share. Maybe then we can get together and try to do something about P6, or at the very least, get the suspension of our basic rights in a font like Arial or Times New Roman, not Comic Sans MS, the P6 of fonts.
The world was supposed to end in 2012. It didn’t. In fact, if 2013 in the news is any indication, it didn’t even change all that much.
There were a few pleasant surprises, a few unpleasant ones, some things didn’t change at all, for better or worse, and there was distraction and that’s where I’ll begin…
Biggest distraction of the year? Without a doubt, this guy:
Not only did Rob Ford dominate the headlines in Canada, distracting from the Senate scandal among other things, he managed to take top billing in the US for a while, overpowering problems with the Obamacare rollout, and even made headline news in Africa. His biggest accomplishment, though, seems to be that his crack use and personal problems have distracted everyone from the fact that he really has terrible policies and kinda sucks as mayor.
With even Harley Davidson coming out against it, it’s clear that some people are seeing through what it essentially a cynical ploy designed to galvanize the right-wing separatist portion of the PQ’s base. Marois’ endgame is clear: re-establishing politics as usual in Quebec, which brings us to…
More of the same
You’d think in a year that saw a record-breaking three different mayors of Montreal, there would be some change. Well, unfortunately, Montrealers, or a small portion of them, voted in Denis Coderre, a candidate that ran with a good chunk of Gerald Tremblay and Michael Applebaum’s former Union Montreal teammates. So far, he’s stuffed the executive committee with his own people despite not having a majority and has declared war on erotic massage parlours, something he didn’t mention at all during the campaign.
It’s also nice to see that the Idle No More movement continues to grow, despite it not being as big in Quebec. Local activists here did have a facepalm-inducing run-in with the cops when they tried to put up a tipi in Montreal. F
We’re getting new metro cars! And we’re not talking about a few tweaks, this is actually a new design! Who would have thought such a thing was possible?
Also, Projet Montreal did end up doing quite well in the municipal election. They held on to two boroughs, nearly added a third, became the official opposition and held Coderre to a minority on council. Melanie Joly also had an impact on our municipal scene and will be someone to watch in the years to come.
Earlier this evening, Montreal police took down and destroyed a tipi that activists had set up as part of the Idle No More Global Day of Action. According to witnesses, police did not attempt any negotiations and moved into the camp, pushing aside a group of Aboriginal women who had surrounded the tipi.
“It was one of the most random and arbitrary attacks on an extremely peaceful event that I have seen,” said protester Katie Nelson, “nevermind disrespectful and extremely insensitive to First Nations.”
In the following audio clip recorded by Nelson, SPVM officer Arruda claims that they are afraid the event would turn into another Occupy Montreal and asks “do you think the City of Montreal cares…” without finishing his question.
While the irony of equating native protesters to occupiers when non-Aboriginals are in fact the ones that have been doing the occupying for centuries seems lost on Arruda, the question he never finished is one we should be asking. Does the city or moreover the people in it care about the First Nations and how the police behave at demonstrations? We can only hope so.
Rage is the ruins in which we find the familiarity of refuge, a place where emotion echoes through chambers of memories. A black out of repetition, a cinematic adventure that we give Oscars to. It is the place that most of us live and a place that most of us die.
What must be worse than being demonstrated against by Anarchists is being lobbied against by Government. To fight for the poor, for the oppressed and the weak and then to be called a terrorist by the machine that perpetuates it. What must definitely be worse than all of that is to be the dog taking scraps to carry out the orders.
I used to pretend that it was all just a nightmare, when you’d blow the horn and the grenades would get thrown. When we were being chased down back alleys, running from whatever you hoped to do. The only thing that keeps your chin up is the belt that keeps your helmet on when someone uses a brick on it; and you stumble home, tears filled in your eyes because another colleague hit the ground from a smoke bomb, and the media rubs your ego because your wife stopped, and we are supposed to feel sorry for you. And we’re supposed to see the orders carried out and the job done as remarkable and impressive.
Mr. Parent and anyone like you, the only thing I find impressive is that you managed to survive an entire year of civil unrest without a single death. Because if I were the kid who had his eye come out of his socket because of your cops “keeping their cool” I would stop at nothing to see you suffer for the loss that you created and the innocence you stole.
I remember every night, and I relive it every night. I remember watching vans screaming down empty roads, hitting people with their doors open and I remember seeing cops laughing after they beat her to the ground, motionless. And I remember the feeling of a gun being pointed at me three days out of the week, and I remember the way my gut would drop when I was cornered by a dumpster off St. Catherines by four hungry men carrying badges.
I remember these things because these things made me hate the reality I was in, it made me hate myself and anyone who tried to empathize with me; because there was a way to stop this, and that way was with you – and instead of acknowledging the fucked up shit happening on your watch nightly, you instead glorified the work of these police as admirable and courageous; we must all bruise our knees as we bow to the men who prevented the death of a student during the strike!
The only thing that prevented death was the kids who had to leave their books behind and pick up rocks instead, the ones who stood on the front line taking blow after blow to try and stop an intervention into a contingent of children in strollers and their parents, the ones who came out every night to fight for the basic rights of survival. The only thing that prevented death was the beasts of our hope, and the determination to fight.
Mr. Parent, until you afford yourself the opportunity to pick up a fucking book and learn what we stand and fight for, what we are willing to risk our lives for, you will never understand what it is like to be forced into submission. Your statements are the trigger to the gun that cultivates the terror for thousands of kids, walking around a world of post-traumatic stress disorder and shell shock, questioning themselves and the society that failed them when a baton to their face gave them the political science degree they were fighting for.
So take your guilt down to the library and see if it pays for the card, because we will never forget what happened in Montreal.
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.