Well, it’s not the kind of video that will warm your heart on such a cold day, but it may just make your blood boil. With the windchill, it’s currently -40 degrees in Montreal, but that didn’t stop SPVM officer Gauthier from threatening to tie a homeless man to a poll outside for an hour.

In this video, originally shared on Facebook by Adis Simidzija, we don’t get the beginning of the altercation, but we do hear Gauthier saying that the man, clearly not well clothed for the weather, was being aggressive. Then we get the threat, that if he doesn’t stop, Gauthier will tie him to a poll outside for an hour.

Regardless of what the man was doing (except killing someone, which he clearly wasn’t), threatening to tie someone up outside in this weather is akin to threatening to beat him up or shoot him. It is an inexcusable threat of cruel violence by this officer.

See for yourself:

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…

Distraction

Biggest distraction of the year? Without a doubt, this guy:

rob ford tired

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.

The biggest distraction this side of the 401 has got to be the Charter of Quebec Values, or the Charter of Secularism or whatever Marois and company are calling it now. It’s garnered the ire of everyone from the Jewish General Hospital, QPIRG Concordia and even Anonymous and it’s the proof that, despite how they may try to promote it, the PQ has lost any progressive cred they may have had.

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.

Denis Coderre

2013 also saw more police repression with the SPVM enforcing bylaw P6 in a very unapologetic and hardcore way. It’s also been the year of police political profiling, fortunately some activists like Katie Nelson are now fighting it in the courts and the court of public opinion. ortunately, protesting Stephen Harper still seems to be kosher in Montreal.

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

There’s also supposed to be another multi-million dollar building going up on the lower Main, an area that doesn’t need it. But, believe it or not, it’s not all more of the same locally, there were…

A few pleasant surprises

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?

new-metro-exterior

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.

Most of the pleasant surprises this year happened in Ottawa (David DesBaillets goes through some of them) and internationally (Niall Clapham Ricardo takes a look at socialism on the rise). For me, the biggest standouts are how Canada just decriminalized prostitution, the courage of Edward Snowden and the fact that the US somehow managed to bungle its way out of a war that nobody wanted or needed in Syria, but most (including me) thought was inevitable.

So that’s just a brief look at how I saw 2013. I do hope that in 2014, we can do away with the distractions and the status quo. That would be a pleasant surprise, but not an impossible one.

* Top image by Jay Manafest

Stephen Harper doesn’t usually visit Montreal and you can understand why. He doesn’t have any elected representation on the island or even near it, he only gets invited to speak at small private and expensive gatherings of the business community and when he does show up, there’s always a welcoming committee that he would rather do without and does his best to avoid.

Yesterday was no different. When Harper showed up at the Palais des congrès to speak on the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement at the invitation of the Montreal Board of Trade, who was charging $1000 a plate for this lunch, there was a protest outside to greet him.

Organizers at Concordia’s Quebec Public Research Interest Group had less than a week to prepare, but still managed to mobilize a decent crowd to show up at 11:30 am on a Friday. There was also another protest marching through the east end at the same time protesting Harper’s cuts to Employment Insurance and a much larger anti-austerity demo with more planning time scheduled for 2pm.

Protesters assembled in the fake green space across the street from the main entrance of the Palais, signs and banners in tow. While I don’t know what this pseudo grass was doing there, it made the spot look like one of those designated protest areas, which the assembled activists soon grew tired of.

Anti Harper protest Montreal Nov 15 2013 a

When it looked like most people had arrived, the group headed across the street, Jaggi Singh of QPIRG spoke on the megaphone and the crowd had generally jovial interactions with the SPVM officers flanking the building. One activist even started chanting “This is what a moustache looks like” to one of the cops who looked like Tom Selleck, presumably for Movember.

As this scene transpired, a group of riot cops assembled around the corner, an ominous though small reminder that there was still a police state in effect. When half of them broke off and marched right in front of the protest to station themselves around the other corner, the protestors started singing the Imperial Death March (Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars).

I have to admit, I like Star Wars references in popular culture but when I see (or hear) one at a political demonstration and it’s an accurate assessment of the situation, I think it’s perfect and in this case it was. Despite the nonviolent approach the police were employing, I can’t forget that this is the same SPVM riot squad that kettled some of these same people for hours with no good reason just a few months ago.

I have to admit, I was a bit concerned that recent history would repeat itself when I heard that chant that anyone who’s been to a protest in Montreal in the past decade knows very well: “A qui la rue? A nous la rue!” But it didn’t.

Anti Harper protest Montreal Nov 15 2013 b

The group started marching in the street, circling the Palais a few times and even reversing direction once. The best part was when we passed under the building, with tunnel-like acoustics giving protesters’ voices a beautiful echo.

At one point during the march, two bike cops were riding on the sidewalk and a few protestors decided to use their voices to remind them that bikes belong in the street. The officers listened to the makeshift traffic cops and stopped breaking the law.

Expert provocatrice Katie Nelson, known for exposing police political profiling through a lawsuit, today exposed a security flaw with side doors to the Palais de Congres. Although a cop thwarted her first attempt, she succeeded the second time, opening a door that led to the inside and Harper, then stood there and let the SPVM know that they had failed. Admitteldy, if most of the protest hadn’t already been forced to the opposite sidewalk, she may just have ushered a bunch of them inside the building.

This playful competition between activists and police took me back to protests I had attended years ago, before the unwarranted crackdown during the Maple Spring and the ensuing repressive P6 kettles. It seemed like activism was alive and well in Montreal once again.

There was no teargass, no new armored tank-like thingy the SPVM just purchased, just peaceful protest and a nonviolent police response. Exhilarating feeling aside, I wonder why this was the case.

This wasn’t a protest made up of senior citizens and children in strollers, the bulk of those in attendance were pretty hardcore, including the CLAC. These are the same people the police targeted both during the student protests and later, when there was an attempted resurgence after Marois came up with her own tuition increase.

Maybe it has to do with Harper. In fact, I’m sure it has to do with Harper.

Anti Harper protest Montreal Nov 15 2013 c

Nobody ’round these parts likes the guy and I think that includes the cops. So, while they will do their job and protect him, they clearly don’t have the same gusto and desire to quash the peaceful rebellion they do when it’s a provincial leader, be it Charest or Marois, in the activist crosshairs.

If this had been, say, a student protest, with the same protestors in attendance behaving the same way, things would have ended differently. In fact, within minutes of activists taking the streets, there would have been a police kettle.

It is widely known that most Montreal police don’t live in the city, but they do live in Quebec and that is where their loyalty is. I only hope they realize soon and en masse that their provincial masters in Quebec City are just as pro-austerity, anti-worker and for an elite class that doesn’t include them as Harper is.

I also hope that they realize opposition to Harper means standing up for Idle No More-affiliated Native activists as they stand against Harper’s devastating ecological policies which affect us all while asserting their own self determination. The SPVM embarrassed themselves when they tore down a tipi recently and even compared the Native activists to occupiers, apparently irony isn’t something they teach police trainees.

There are a long list of reasons to oppose Harper, the group who organised this protest outlined a few on the Facebook event page. I can only hope the SPVM officers realize that its those reasons that got people to the streets and not the fact that Harper is some douche from Calgary (or Toronto) that none of their friends voted for.

Harper is a figurehead, as is Marois and Charest before her. If the SPVM are cool with activists protesting one, then they should be cool with the same people protesting the others.

The state is the state. As agents of the state, SPVM officers should learn that and realize that they actually don’t work for the state, in theory, but the people, the same people they kettle for protesting one leader and exchange jokes with when they are targeting another.

We need more vibratnt and fun protests like this one in Montreal that aren’t crushed before they have a chance to get going. I hope we don’t have to wait until Stephen Harper returns for that to happen.

* photos by Jay Manafest, you can see the full album on our Facebook page

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.

Give it a listen:

* Photo by Katie Nelson via Twitter

Katie Nelson responds to recent comments by SPVM police chief Marc Parent on last year’s student strike. This post originally appeared on her blog maroisandme.wordpress.com and is republished with permission from the author.

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.

protest shot

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.

* photos by Phyllis Papoulias

447 people detained at a May Day march Wednesday, some for as long as six hours without food, water or access to a bathroom. Elementary school parents hassled Thursday morning for not providing the route they and their children would take to educate the public about road safety at a dangerous intersection. The SPVM has been busy enforcing bylaw P-6.

Cops in Montreal seem to be on a power trip. Not surprising considering just last Tuesday, Montreal’s city council voted down a motion 34-25 put forward by Projet Montreal councilor Alex Norris that would have removed the changes made to bylaw P-6 last year forcing protesters to provide police with a route of their demonstration among other things (this following Projet’s François Limoges’ excellent speech on the right to protest).

Politicians voting in or to uphold a law that anyone can tell is both unconstitutional and wrong is nothing new, not even in Quebec. Just last spring, the Charest government brought in Bill 78 and the Tremblay-controlled council passed the aforementioned changes to P-6 as a way for the SPVM to enforce 78 without actually doing so and facing a charter challenge.

But those were different times. Those laws were passed as a desperate attempt to stop a peaceful protest movement that was already in full swing and garnering international media attention.

city hall sit-in
Impromptu sit-in at City Hall following the vote on P-6 (image MouvementEtudiant.info)

Predictably, they failed. The Maple Spring was too big to contain. Even the cops used their newfound powers sporadically.

This time around, the draconian measures kicked in before there was a large enough groundswell to jump over them. With only a few hundred people to corral, the SPVM were free to act like bullies and politically profile and target people they didn’t like.

Even in front of city hall, in front of the cameras in broad daylight, the cops tackled someone who was just taking pictures and ticketed people for playing music and spitting on the ground. These disgusting abuses of authority have now been vindicated by our elected officials and that’s really scary.

It’s also truly frightening to think that anyone going out to demonstrate will have the thought of a $637 fine and six hours without a bathroom break in the back of their mind. That may not prevent the hardcores, but it will give many second thoughts.

I’ll admit that I’m even a little nervous to attend a protest. Given the way the SPVM have been treating what even they see as legitimate media lately makes me wonder if an FTB press pass would carry any weight with them.

casseroles
Last year’s casseroles marches (photo by Chris Zacchia)

In this climate, how can something like the casseroles ever happen? Last year people who were too busy to express their sympathies with student marchers and their disgust with Bill 78 on a regular basis could just take a walk down the street banging on their pots and pans on a warm summer night and then go about their business. Now, sadly, they may be too scared.

That’s obviously why the cops decided to use these tactics. They wanted to prevent the movement from reaching the widespread appeal it had last year. Their other goal, presumably, was a political one : to change the script.

If the student movement’s reboot hadn’t been crushed in its infancy, it would be clear to everyone that it never was for Marois and the PQ, just against Charest and his Liberal Party’s education policies. If the protests that resumed when Marois decided to index tuition hadn’t been oppressed by the SPVM when they were still small, you wouldn’t hear anyone blaming the students for what the PQ is now doing.

In an alternate reality, we may have marchers opposed to Bill 14 walking side by side with the students. Instead, Marois has brought the discourse back to language and separation, window dressing to distract from the fight against austerity and neo-liberal economic policies.

Meanwhile, very few people attending or covering the protests are talking about the Marois education policy or even Marois at all. It’s now a fight against a municipal administration and for the very right to protest. It’s kinda hard to make this a Quebec-wide thing when the movement is stifled in its would-be epicentre.

Last year, our city was a beacon of hope for people opposed to austerity and the oppressive nature of the state. Tourism didn’t suffer, in fact, people even came here for the protests and spent money at local merchants. This year, the image that is getting out is that of the police kettle. Montreal: come for the smoked meat, stay six hours in a kettle because you can’t leave.

kettle meme
Original image by Arij Riahi

The script, indeed, has changed, but it looks like some of the cops have misplaced their copies and are winging it. While their management is claiming that they understand the “necessary nuances” and won’t be enforcing P-6 when it comes to, say, Habs victory celebrations (read: only enforcing it against those they don’t like), it seems that whomever decided to declare that a group of elementary school parents and their children promoting road safety an illegal assembly wasn’t thinking in a very nuanced fashion.

Now consider this along with some of the recent police actions caught on video: an arbitrary arrest of someone walking on the sidewalk, a fully protected riot squad officer shoving a woman with his shield for trying to talk to him, the list goes on. You start getting the picture that police in this town are generally revelling in their newly re-approved authority.

Mayor Applebaum and the city council have created a monster that even they don’t seem able to control anymore. There is a political solution, but that will have to wait until November.

What do we do until then? We can’t accept our city becoming a police state. We can’t accept P-6 and provide a route for spontaneous demonstrations. But we also can’t keep getting hurt, kettled and arbitrarily arrested.

If you have any ideas, please share them. I’m kinda stumped.

* Top image by Jonathan Cyr via Twitter

They’re not even trying to hide it anymore. Montreal’s police force, the SPVM, is now openly engaging in political profiling.

Over the past few months, the cops have been enforcing municipal bylaw P-6, which outlaws any demonstration where no route has been provided and makes it illegal to wear a mask at a protest, every chance they get. Within minutes of a protest starting, no matter how big or small, SPVM officers surround, kettle and eventualy release the participants, handing them a $637 ticket on the way out. Last time they even confiscated beloved mascot Anarchopanda’s head.

Now this bylaw may be unconstitutional, but the SPVM brass and politicians like Mayor Michael Applebaum contend that it’s not that restrictive considering all protesters need to do is provide a route. But it’s now clear that only people they decide to discriminate against have to submit to this bureaucratic infringement on freedom of expression.

At a press conference yesterday, a reporter asked Police Chief Marc Parent how his department would treat hockey fans celebrating a hypothetical Stanley Cup victory by the Canadiens (it’s possible, go habs go). Presumably, they wouldn’t provide a route for their demonstration of support for the hockey team and that’s okay with the chief.

“We know very well,” Pare said in French, “that in that moment, we’re not there to ask someone their itinerary. It’s not organized, it’s spontaneous and that we know very well.”

You know what else is spontaneous? A student demonstration where the only bit of organization is where and when everyone is going to assemble. “Meet at Parc Emilie Gamelin at 8pm” is about as much pre-planning as “meet in front of the Bell Centre during the third period.”

So, a spontaneous demonstration of support for the Habs gets a pass whereas a spontaneous demonstration of disgust with the Marois government gets kettled? How can anyone justify this?

montreal police kettle

Well, maybe it has something to do with violence. Problem is that there was more violence and vandalism in just one night of hockey rioting the last time the Habs made it past the first round then there was in six months of nightly student protests. True, hockey rioters are just a few bad apples and don’t represent the broader fanbase, but so are those who caused the damage during the student protests. The “casseurs” don’t represent the student movement as a whole and the cops know it.

They also know that Jennifer Pawluck didn’t create the graffiti artwork depicting SPVM spokesperson Ian Lafrenière with a bullet hole in his head, she just photographed it and shared it on Instagram, much like an independent reporter might do. It didn’t stop them from bringing her from her home to the station and formally charging her with criminal harassment and intimidation of a police officer.

ian lafreniere graffitiDoes this mean that anyone can be charged for what’s happening in a photograph they post online? For a while it looked like that may be the case, but in light of how the chief claims the cops would treat a Habs victory celebration, it’s clear that the SPVM’s current tactics are much more sinister then a blanket oppression of the right to free expression.

It’s selective enforcement. If they don’t like you, they’ll charge you with something.

Cops may have been doing this for years, but at least they had the decency to try and cover it up and make token firings of the unlucky officers who got caught. Now the proverbial cat is out of the bag and they don’t seem to care. Their spokespeople are brazenly admitting to political profiling.

This is would be funny if it wasn’t so damn scary. The public needs to challenge this blatant discrimination and remind the police that they aren’t a gang loyal to each other but rather public servants who work for us, all of us, even those they don’t like.

* Top image thehockeyjunkies.blogspot.com, kettle image by Tim McSorley for the Media Co-Op

Ethan Cox is the Quebec correspondent for Rabble.ca where this post originally appeared

“This is approaching absurdist comedy,” tweeted Montreal Gazette reporter Christopher Curtis Friday night, trapped in a police kettle from which Montreal’s finest inexplicably refused to release him as his deadline approached.

“Did they really, actually arrest Anarchopanda????” replied well known Québécoise pundit Josée Legault.

Curtis never replied, no doubt caught up in extricating himself from police custody, so allow me to do so now: yes Josée, they really, actually did. Just call him Arrestopanda. At night’s end the tally ran something like this: one panda, several rabbits, a few dozen journos and almost three hundred dull normals cuffed, processed and slapped with $637 fines. This after being held for hours in the cold kettles Montreal police formed around them.

An obscene over-reaction regardless of circumstance, kettling has been ruled illegal by England’s High Court. In Toronto, the senior police commander who ordered protesters kettled at the 2010 G20 summit has been charged with discreditable conduct and unlawful use of authority. The Toronto Police Service have committed to never use the tactic again after an independent review found it to be unlawful. Kettling is a particularly disturbing tactic because it only works on peaceful protesters who offer little resistance, making it insidiously offensive to the concept of free speech and free assembly.

Protestors kettled Friday night photo Tim McSorley for Media Co-op
Protestors kettled Friday night in Montreal photo Tim McSorley for Media Co-op

But, some would argue, once those damn kids started with the breaking of the windows and the throwing of the snowballs, what choice did the police have?

Sorry Dorothy, but we’re not in Kansas anymore. The question of whether you can justify arresting hundreds of people because one or two did something objectionable is sooooo 2012.

Friday night, before the protest had even begun, and without so much as a hurtful word to serve as pretext, Montreal police descended on a crowd of protesters who were, without exception, peaceful and arrested the lot of them.

I don’t go in for a lot of the alarmist stuff you see on Twitter and Facebook. I think Stephen Harper sucks, and I hate what he’s done to our country, but I don’t think he’s a dictator or a fascist. I’ve always hated the SSPVM chant (the addition of an extra “s” to the name of Montreal’s police service alluding to the Nazi SS) and I think such hyperbole often obscures, rather than illuminates, important issues.

So it’s not for nothing that I tell you I woke this morning genuinely afraid. For the first time in my life I am afraid of what can happen to me, and to my friends and neighbors and strangers, if we exercise inalienable rights that we cannot, must not, forfeit. This is not hyperbole, it is fact, and the fact is that the world looks a great deal darker today.

How else to process the preventative arrest of 294 law abiding citizens for the sole crime of attempting to express their political views in a constitutionally guaranteed fashion? Worse, this is the third time Montreal police have moved in to preemptively arrest a protest in its entirety in the space of one week, this lovely new staple of police tactics having been trotted out at the annual anti-police brutality march on the 15th and again to pre-empt a student protest on Tuesday, when 45 people were arrested.

Last night’s shameful spectacle came courtesy of Municipal By-Law P-6, the little known municipal counterpart to the universally denounced, and now repealed, Bill 78/ Law 12. The municipal bylaw shares the requirement that protests must submit their route for approval by the police 24 hours in advance. Among other goodies, it also allows Montreal’s Executive Committee to prohibit any peaceful assembly indefinitely, at their discretion and without notice. It should be noted that this almost certainly unconstitutional bylaw was passed by a municipal government with all the credibility and moral authority of a turnip.

arrestopanda_0
Anarchopanda surrounded photo Peter-Thomas Kennedy/99media.org

At last night’s demonstration the police declared the protest illegal before it began for failing to provide a route and ordered protesters to disperse. However, they waited only seconds between giving that order and kettling protesters, giving them no chance to comply.

But don’t worry, say the police, they aren’t infringing on anyone’s right to protest, because no such right exists.

“Starting with the last three demonstrations, we have been intervening faster,” Sergeant Jean-Bruno Latour, a spokesperson for the SPVM, told La Presse. “We do not want to hold citizens who wish to go to downtown Montreal hostage. The Charter [of rights and freedoms] protects the right to freedom of expression, but there is no right to protest.” [Translated from French]

This rather jaw-dropping statement raised the ire of Véronique Robert, a criminal lawyer in Montreal. Her scathing rebuttal on the website of weekly newspaper Voir titled “Fear the police, not the protests” is a delicious take down of this absurd position, and if you read French I recommend reading it in its entirety. Here’s a taste:

“This screwball assertion by an officer with the Montreal Police is scary, alarming and frightening, and leads to two conclusions: first, our police urgently need more law classes as part of their training. Second, things are not at all well in Quebec right now, and that frightens me.” [Translated]

Robert goes on to patiently explain that peaceful assembly and protest is an integral part of freedom of expression, without which the right cannot exist. She points out that not only is our right to protest clearly and explicitly protected by our Charter, it is also protected by every document dealing with the protection of fundamental rights in the world, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In 2005, the UN Human Rights Commission criticized, as it did again last year, mass arrests taking place in Montreal in the context of the last student strike, calling mass arrests by their very nature a violation of the right to freedom of expression. The commission called for a public inquiry into police actions, and questioned the article in the criminal code prohibiting illegal assembly.

cops sign
Peter-Thomas Kennedy/99media.org

“The state must ensure that the right to peacefully participate in a protest is respected, and that only those who have committed a criminal infraction during a protest are arrested.” [Translated]

Robert concludes as follows:

“When the young, and the even younger, receive $614 [sic] tickets for participating in a public assembly, be afraid. When protest movements are bullied from the moment they are formed, be afraid. When the police detain citizens en masse for no reason, be afraid. When police conflate interrogation with arbitrary arrest for exercising a constitutional right, be afraid.

What should actually scare us, in Montreal, is the police and their totalitarian declarations. What we should fear is the state and our mode of governance. Not protesters.” [Translated]

Strong words, but necessary ones. Robert is no wild-eyed radical, she’s a criminal defence attorney, and is articulating a position shared by the vast majority of her colleagues. P-6 has been denounced by the Quebec Bar Association, representing the province’s lawyers and prosecutors, and a march of lawyers against Law 12 last year drew over six hundred into the streets.

Right now, in Montreal, the very right to protest, that most fundamental right to freedom of expression, is under assault. If we give in, and stay home for fear of these preposterous tickets, we will have lost not just the battle but the war itself. Indeed, the worst part about these tactics is that they work. I know many friends who will no longer go to protests for fear of arrest and a ticket they cannot afford. What a sad state of affairs when the police bully and intimidate citizens out of exercising their right to criticize the government. So go to the demos, go to all the demos, and prove you will not let fear and intimidation win out. If you get a ticket, contest it. The legal resources to ensure you succeed are freely available. And no matter what you do, make sure to go to the demo on the 22nd of April, which I think should be branded as a manif in defence of our civil liberties. If there are enough people in the streets, the cops can’t do a thing. Small crowds are what allow these abuses.

When our police force denies that we have any right to peacefully express our dissent, there is no recourse but to fight tooth and nail to protect our rights. This is far too important an issue to let slide.

Robert and I both expect legal challenges to this law, which will hopefully be struck down, but in the meanwhile I think it’s time we made municipal bylaw P-6 an election issue.

Montreal has a municipal election coming up in November. With the implosion of the ruling Union Montreal party after revelations of widespread corruption, revelations which also tarnished the reputation of opposition party Vision Montreal, the election is more uncertain than any in my memory.

Over the next year any number of politicians will be asking for your vote. Any time they do, make a habit of telling them that you will only vote for a party which commits to repeal bylaw P-6. This is for all the marbles folks, our right to freedom of expression is not negotiable.

The PQ campaigned heavily on a promise to repeal the wildly unpopular Law 12, and now it’s time to finish what they started. The repeal of Law 12 is a Pyrrhic victory if bylaw P-6 remains in force.

I’ll close with an oldie but a goodie: If you’re not outraged, then you’re not paying attention.

If you are in Montreal, a major demonstration against bylaw P-6 has been organized for April 22 at 6PM, outside of City Hall. For more information or to confirm your attendance you can check out the Facebook event.

You can also sign the petition against bylaw P-6

Monday evening. I get out of Charlevoix metro station in the heart of Montreal’s Pointe-Saint-Charles southwest borough.

Two police officers, a young woman and a young man, wearing dark latex gloves and standing near their vehicle, are speaking with a young woman who is very thin, her blond hair is disheveled, her clothes are dirty, teeth in bad shape (several missing), and she seems intoxicated.

I hear the police woman calling her “Melodie! Viens ici!” as Melodie steps away to ask a man nearby for a cigarette.

Melodie returns and speaks jovially with the police officers.

I check the 71 bus schedule. 10 minutes.

I am about to sip the last of my coffee, when a bee decides it also wants some of it. I escape to the bus stop bench, and the bee leaves. An older man is sitting, also waiting for the 71. I sit next to him.

The situation degenerates.

The police officers are now holding Melodie. She is fighting them off with her arms and legs.  They hold on as she kicks and tries to go free from both of their grip. “Laissez-moi!” she shouts, while asking for her lawyer, interspersed with talking and joking with the officers. She calls the police officers by their first names.

A loud siren. A police car arrives at the corner where the two officers are battling with Melodie.  An older, husky, police officer, wearing sun glasses smiles as he slam parks.  He gets out of the car, he is wearing latex gloves. He presses Melodie’s head down on the sidewalk, who is by now held face down on the sidewalk.

She is no longer smiling. Her face flushes, she cries “Ça fait mal. Ça fait mal sur le trottoir.”

People are coming out of the metro station to stop and stare at the scene unfolding—young children look confused and their moms concerned, a young woman holds her hand to her mouth, young men look on.

I look next to my left; people are sitting on benches, some standing – all looking with a certain expression on their face at the woman lying on the ground, with police officers holding her down.

People across the street, at a café terrace, come out and watch.

It’s painful. What will they do with her?

Seven officers are now around and on Melodie. She smiles with pain visibly on her face, she talks to the crowd “Vous êtes mes amis. Vous êtes tous mes amis.” She yells that the three male officers are hurting her as they press her on the concrete.

The most disturbing is when one officer gets cuffs and a belt to shackle her feet.

The young man sitting on the bench to my left tells the older man to my right: “I have a pair of cuffs I can lend them if they need one.” The two men laugh. I feel disgust.

She is alone.

We watch.

“How do you get to this?” I ask out loud.

“It’s very easy,” the older man answers.  “I’ll tell you. There was a fire in my home some years ago. Because I was on medication, they took me to a psychiatric hospital and identified as an ‘itinérant’ because I no longer had an address. That’s all you need. One thing to happen and the spiral begins.”

The spiral that excludes you from society?

“But this happens every day. Every day she does this,” he adds. The older man tells me that some do this so that they can be taken by police to the hospital to get free drugs.

“And she’ll be out by tonight,” the young man to my left chimes in.

“And she’ll do this all over again and we pay for this,” the older man says.

“Maybe she didn’t have parents to take care of her,” I offer.

“Of course she had parents!” he says.

“How do you know? How does anyone know?”

“I live here. Everyone knows her. She does this to herself,” he says.

“I hate watching this. I want to help,” I say.

“There is nothing you can do,” the older man says.

“I didn’t even try,” I say.

The bus arrives. The older man complains to another older man that, due to this—Melodie being held down by seven officers, surrounded by three police cars—the bus will have to stop a few metres away from the designated spot.

We board. The bus driver’s radio plays “Bulletproof” by La Roux.

The atmosphere on board the bus feels grim. I, along with most people on board—mostly women—had seen and heard the scene before us.

I wanted to help Melodie.

Like in a movie script, I thought of walking up to her amidst the tense scene, amidst the crowd, kneel down, look in her eyes and tell her “I love you.”

But the “Are you crazy? Board that bus! They could arrest you if you interfere” won.

I didn’t do anything.

They brought this on to themselves. It is not for me to fix you and pay for you when we all work hard and earn our way.

Right?

 

*Photo by 2010 Legal Observers via Flickr under a CC license.